I wrote two fanfic posts on Bahubali, and in both of them I ended up giving Anushka and Prabhas a daughter, Anushka 2. Who has all the confidence of her mother with the fierce sense of duty and justice of her father. And then I kind of fell in love with her character, and ended up starting a fanfic for her and Rana 2 (the illegitimate nephew I decided to give Rana). You can read part 1 here.
Anushka 2, all powerful Queen of Mahishmati, is sitting on the ground making googly eyes at a big-eyed little baby. Her best friend and sister-in-law Tamannah, Queen of Kuntala, is watching, and can’t help but sigh and say “Oh, you would make such a wonderful mother! I wish….” Anushka doesn’t look away from the baby in her lap or let her voice drop out of the sing-song tone as she reminds her, “Remember my vow. I swore when I took the throne 4 years ago, I would only marry the man who defeats me in combat. And such a man doesn’t exist.”
At which point Prabhas 2 grabs the baby from her and says “I beg your pardon? If you remember, the last time we dueled, I defeated you.” Anushka 2 calmly responds “And the time before that, I won. And give me back that baby!” Prabhas 2 lifts the baby away and puts it on his shoulder and declares “No, it’s baby naptime now, and besides, little sisters who talk back to their big brothers don’t deserve to play with babies.”
Prabhas takes the baby away and, after he leaves, Tamannah says to Anushka more seriously, “Don’t you ever want that for yourself? A baby and someone to share your life with?” Anushka smiles at her, “I want peace for the kingdom more. And that means I need to be a strong leader for my people. And you would be surprised how few men are interested in marrying a woman more powerful than them”. Tamannah looks earnest, “Do you think Prabhas ever minds marrying me? Giving up his own throne in Mahishmati and becoming merely consort of the ruler of a minor kingdom?”
Before Anushka can answer, Prabhas comes back in the room and gently caresses Tamannah’s shoulder saying “I have never minded. I promised long ago to serve you and make your goals my own. That duty is the greatest on earth, no kingdom of any size matters next to that.” Tamannah reaches up and puts her hand over his and their eyes meet, and for a moment they don’t even notice that Anushka is in the room. And, while they are not noticing, Anushka lets her face show her jealousy for just a moment. And then she shakes it off, and smiles and says “So, tell me, is there anything worth seeing at the trade fair this year? Or did I just travel all this way to play with babies and watch you two hold hands?”
Prabhas and Tamannah smile and shake themselves out of their moment, Prabhas answers, “well, the weapon’s merchants started a new event last year, a competition open to all, with a big purse for the winner. I’ve been told last year there was a fighter who was something special, he’s rumored to be returning this year. Of course, we weren’t able to go to any of the events at last year’s fair, thanks to the arrival of baby Prabhas 3.”
“You are such a good brother! Anyone else would try to tempt me with new silks or jewelry, but you know exactly the way to my heart! Yes, let’s order the closed carriage and go see this ‘master fighter'”.
At the fight ring, Rana is talking with Sudeep before his next fight. “Why did we bother coming back here? After last year, you know there is no one here worth my abilities. Maybe 4 years ago, when you first met me and I was throwing drunks out of bars, but now I am far beyond that. Why lower my respect by participating in these fights?” Sudeep draws himself up and reminds Rana “Did you not take a vow to obey me without question?” and then he laughs and relaxes and answers, “I had an old friend here, I was hoping to met him. Indulge an old man in his petty dreams.” Rana clasps his shoulder, and asks “Is this about those letters you pick up every time we swing through the Singapurum trade stop? If so, from the look on your face when you open them, I don’t think it is a petty dream at all.” Before Sudeep can respond, Rana’s entrance is called, and he casually throws a scarf over his face, announcing “I may be willing to fight here for you, old man, but I won’t have my reputation ruined by letting them see my face.”
Meanwhile, outside, Anushka is sitting in a closed carriage with Prabhas standing outside. “Have the fighters entered the ring?” “Yes, they have.” “Are they fighting with swords or with sticks?” “Sticks.” “How about now? Have the switched to knives? It sounds like the have.” The curtain suddenly pulls open and Prabhas sticks his head in to say “do you maybe want to just come out and see for yourself?” Anushka shrieks and shoves his head out, “No! I told you, the Queen of Mahishmati can’t come and watch a fighting match in the public square! It wouldn’t be fair, it would take the attention away from the fighters and…” And then she stops, her attention caught by the new fighter in the square, a head taller than the rest, walking with a strange grace and effortless power. The announcer declares, “Last year’s champion, the fighter of Singapurum! He will take on all comers, simultaneously!” The first attacker enters the ring, a young guardsman from Kuntala, he rushes in with his war cry ringing out and his staff ready, but before he even reaches the masked fighter, his staff has been neatly grabbed and used to lift him in the air and gently toss him into the crowd. There is a roar of approval, Prabhas turns back, to Anushka to resume their conversation, but she is already gone. The carriage is empty, one of the curtains is gone as well, and a quick check under the cushions reveals that her emergency sword has gone too. Prabhas smiles and calls over one of the assistants, telling him “run back to the palace as quickly as possible and tell my wife to join me here. Something is about to happen that she will not want to miss.”
In the fighting ring, Rana is easily knocking away opponents with only half his attention, the rest of his mind focused on wondering who that mysterious person could be that Sudeep came here to see. Three times a year, for the past 4 years, Sudeep had left him with a different teacher for 7 days, telling him he needed to learn new techniques. But Rana knew it was more than that, Sudeep always returned to pick him up seeming strangely younger, lighter, happier. And that same happiness on his face appeared every time they picked up one of those mysterious letters with a royal seal, or when they entered Kuntala. He had heard that the royal family of Kuntala was a queen and her young consort, he was sure Sudeep was too honorable to trifle with a married man. So who could this mysterious royal be?
Rana had reached this point in his wondering, considering whether perhaps he should take one of these young guardsmen in a headlock and take the opportunity to question him about what handsome man of the royal family might take thrice year vacations, when he felt a blow to his head. It had been years since he had felt that! Years since any opponent had been good enough to get that close and land a direct blow. Rana turned, faster than thought, and grabbed for where he knew this new enemy’s hand must be, only to grab air, because he had already moved.
Standing 4 feet away, perfectly balanced, with a sheathed sword raised in his arms, plain white clothes with no marking to indicate rank or allegiance, and a white scarf tied round his face to hide his identity. There was no need for talk, they understood each other, this was another fighter at the top of his game, as eager as Rana for a worthy opponent, ready for the joy of a even fight, one without publicity or higher powers involved, just two anonymous warriors testing each other’s strength. Rana smiled behind his own black mask and took up his position.
Tamannah arrived 15 minutes later, having taken her fighting chariot at a run from the palace. Prabhas was standing by the royal entrance, waiting for her, but facing the fight ring and did not even hear her approach. One of the few times in their married life that he failed in his duty of attending to her. But, when Tamannah exited the carriage and turned to see what he was watching, she could not blame him.
Perhaps, to the crowd observing, this appeared the same as any other duel. Thrust and parry, back and forth. But Tamannah and Prabhas, trained warriors, and more importantly, ones who loved and knew Anushka, could see something different.
For the first time since she was 16 and for the first time won a training match against her father, Anushka was pushed to her limits. And she gloried in it. The turn of her leg when pushing back, the flip of a wrist in a parry, to one who knew her, it told a story of sudden joy, energy, euphoria. They did not need to see her face behind her mask to know there was a smile there, that her eyes were glowing with a new light, that something had awakened inside her during this battle of equals which had never been there before. To one who knew Anushka, the story was written out as clear as if it had been in words of fire.
On the other side of the ring, Sudeep was watching as well. He had been half distracted, scanning the crowds, when the fight started. There was no need to watch Rana, he knew he could easily defeat all comers and would not be challenging himself or learning from it. But he had sensed the shift in energy as soon as the white fighter entered the ring. The way he moved, a sudden dash across the sand, had told him this was something new. He had to restrain himself from calling out a cry of warning, because here was one enemy that could kill his student. But he resisted, let the white fighter reach his boy and knock him on the head.
And now, he was still not sure he had done right. Because he could read the story in Rana’s moves as well as Prabhas and Tamannah could in Anushka’s. There was something here that had never been here before. A steadiness, a determination, a focus. It had come to Rana too fast for he himself to be aware of it, but Sudeep could see, watching, that for the rest of his life this white fighter would be the single object of all of Rana’s endeavors, would be the focus always at the back of his mind. And Sudeep, suddenly feeling old, looked back on his own 20 years of waiting, of catching stolen moments of happiness between conflicting responsibilities, suddenly remembering that first moment, just a few feet from here, when a young trader had bargained with a masked merchant, their hands had met in an exchange of coins, their eyes had met, and they had both known that their lives had forever been changed. The glory of youth, of that first night together stolen in a merchant’s traveling tent, followed by the misery of morning when he learned the truth, that this would not be a partner who could follow him on his journeys, but a man tied to one place and a family and responsibilities, that they would have to live with part-time love and a life that would never feel fully full except for those few snatched moments. And Rana, whether or not he knew it yet, had just entered that same existence, a love that would conflict with his sworn vows.
In the ring, there was no time to consider emotions of the moment, or plan for the future, all of that was secondary to the next move in the game between them. They had moved from sheathed sword versus staff, to sword versus knife, and finally with a flick of the wrist, Anushka tossed off Rana’s knife with her sword and, moments later, he grabbed her hand and twisted loose her grip on the sword. Anushka started to twist away, in a practiced move she had made a million times, and Rana countered by turning her closer into his body, move and counter-move continuing the dance. But suddenly, something was different. Rana felt the body against him, and it was not the same as his. Softer, curves hidden under the clothes. He felt soft hair tickly his cheek, and suddenly inhaled an intoxicating mixture of scents.
Anushka felt his hesitation and distraction, and knew she should take advantage of it, but could not bring herself to move. She felt hard arms around her, a sharp scent of sweat and man, and was suddenly aware of how different her body was than a man’s, how his was taller and wider and harder. She wanted to just feel that, just for a moment longer, and so she did not move either. Her eyes closed, her body relaxed for just a moment, and she came close to giving in, to letting herself go.
But somehow, behind her eyes, suddenly came the image of a flying horse, her father’s sigil. The honor of her family, of Mahishmati, she could not afford to let go, even for a moment, she was not just a wandering fighter in a dusty small town ring, she was a Queen with a responsibility to her people. Behind her, she suddenly sensed a shift in his muscles, he was preparing for another attack, she had to move before he could, to wrench herself away.
Rana was lost in his own moment. To the crowd, it was only a half-second hesitation between moves, but to him it was an eternity. An eternity of softness and sweet scents and a sudden vision of what life could be like with a partner to share it, what love could be like. As a boy raised in brothels, Rana had always had a theoretical idea of what happened between men and women, but he had never been tempted to try a practical application. What was the joy in these bedroom games compared to the challenge of a duel with a worthy opponent? But now, with this woman, he could have it all in one, everything, and suddenly 25 years of control broke and a wellspring of desire surged up from within him. And then, a moment later, he remembered his vow. He was not free to desire this woman, or anything or anyone else. He had one year to fulfill his promise and place the blood of his mother on the throne of Mahishmati. And right now, he had to finish this fight one way or the other and complete his mission. His eyes snapped open and he braced himself to twist her to the ground, but before he could, she had moved out of his grasp.
Anushka moved almost too fast, eager to get away from the distraction of his body, and pulled away slightly off balance, Rana saw the slight error in her stance, made a faint to the right and, when she followed, suddenly moved left and grabbed her waist and with a twist, through her to the ground.
Anushka knew she was beaten. She could feel the implacable power of him behind her, forcing her down. She could feel no forgiveness in him this time, this was not a man behind her any more, simply another fighter determined to win. And for a moment, she wanted to give in. Quick as lightning it flashed through her mind, to give in to him, to lose, to reveal her identity, her vow, elevate this stranger to consort and husband, have a companion she could trust standing next to her throne. But that thought was chased by another, the dangers of allowing a strange man to have such power over her and her kingdom, of giving up her mental judgement to a momentary excitement, or putting her people at risk. No! She couldn’t do it. And she also could not break her vow, she must defeat him if she was to remain single. By any means necessary. And so, while she could not fully free herself from his grasp, she twisted herself round, rubbed her scarf against the ground, and turned her head, allowing him one glimpse of her eyes, the curve of her cheek, her full lips. And, as expected, his grip relaxed suddenly, his body softened in response, and for just a moment there was a gap in his power, and Anushka took advantage of it, twisting herself free and re-arranging her scarf as she stood, so that the glimpse of her face was for Rana, and Rana alone. The announcer declared her winner, the crowd cheered, but she moved without looking back, not daring to trust her control to one more glimpse of him, hurrying to the gate, barely seeing her brother, not feeling the comforting hands of her sister-in-law as she drew her into the closed carriage, just staring into space and feeling, over and over again, that moment of giving in, of just for a second feeling someone else holding her up.