I am almost done with the official Bahubali novel, and I have to say, my fanfic matches my feeling for the films much better than the novels. I’m not saying it is better objectively, just that the things I liked from the films (strong characters, moral quandaries, a magical world, romantic love) are what I am playing around with in my fanfic, while the “real” novels are playing around with some whole other thing (it’s like the movies, but with sex! Lots and lots of graphic boring sex! And child killings) (full index of Bahubali posts, including the rest of the fanfic, here)
To recap, Anushka and Rana are in love. Anushka is the Queen of Mahishmati, having taken the thrown after the death by heart attack of her evil uncle Rana, and her beheading of her cousin (Rana’s son). Her brother, Prabhas 2, is living happily in the tiny kingdom of Kuntala with his wife, Queen of Kuntala, Tamannah. Anushka has sworn only to marry the man who can defeat her in combat, an attempt to avoid marriage altogether since no man will ever be able to defeat her. She meets Rana at the Kuntala village fair, where he is competing as a masked fighter and his skills are so amazing that Anushka cannot resist masking herself and joining the competition. During their fight, Rana and Anushka both fall in love without even realizing it. Afterwards, Anushka rushes from the stadium, afraid of her feelings. Rana chases after, and throws her his knife to signal his everlasting devotion and service. And then they separate.
Anushka goes back to her life ruling Mahishmati, and Rana goes back to his life trying to destroy Mahishmati. He swore an oath to his mother that he would destroy the Mahishmati royal family as punishment for the way they abused his mother (illegitimate daughter of that family). But since Rana has never seen a good portrait of the Queen of Mahishmati, he doesn’t know it is Anushka. And Anushka hasn’t seen Rana’s face at all (and even if she did, could she recognize it as looking like her evil uncle from court portraits?). Until just now, when Anushka, drugged with Bhang at a court dinner, dives off the palace walls into the moat and Rana rescues her, thinking she is some poor servant who fell in. But after dragging her into one of the underground tunnels Rana knows about from his mother, Anushka realizes, despite the unlikeliness of it, that Rana is that masked fighter. And admits she was the other fighter, but introduces herself as “part of the royal family of Kuntala” rather than by her full title. And then they kiss (squee!).
Anushka was in the throws of enjoying her first kiss ever (the boys she grew up with always seemed to see her as a sparring partner rather than a kissing partner), when a burning feeling in the back of her throat reminded her that she was also in the middle of recovering from drowning. Reluctantly, she moved her head slightly back, freeing her lips just in time for another hacking coughing fit.
Rana came back to himself with a jolt. He was a clod! A villain! His Love (“Anushka”, she said her name was) was in no state to enjoy his advances. Now was not the time for romance.
Anushka tried to toss her hair in front of her face, the elegant way she saw court ladies do, and instead it kind of slapped over her eyes and made the coughing worse. The first man ever she wanted to impress, and instead of being in silks and satins at some banquet, here she was coughing her lungs out in a dirty dingy corridor somewhere! She tried to take in one more gasping breath and suddenly received assistance with a hearty pound to her back. The last bit of moat water came out of her in one final choking spit. Please say he didn’t see! Please say he didn’t see!
Rana was pleased. Her color was coming back, that last gag seemed to have choked out the water along with the stomach fluids. Now she just needed re-hydration while sitting upright and breathing slowly. God she was beautiful! The strain on her face as she struggled for breath, it just made her bones stand out, the wet hair stuck to her lips just made their color stronger. No! He was a villain, a beast. She would be disgusted if she knew he was admiring her beauty when he should be noticing her distress.
(I’m still not buying the whole “soaking wet women are super sexy, not gross and cold and spitting”)
His voice sounded almost cold when he spoke to her now. Probably because any possible romantic interest had just been killed, “Lean back on me. You need to sit up. I’ll give you more water.” Anushka kept her head down so she didn’t have to look him in the eye and let him rearrange her body so that she was leaning against his warm bare chest. Not that she had much of a choice, her muscles were still too exhausted from the struggle for life to be much help. She resisted a little when he tried to raise her head, please don’t make her see his disappointed face! Oh! He looked….kind. Concerned. Something inside her melted just a little bit, some hard piece that she had built up when she chose to be Queen. Someone who she could trust to just want to take care of her. How nice!
Rana felt her body relax a little. She did forgive him! She trusted him! He tried not to let his emotions show on his face, this wasn’t about him, it was about her. But he allowed himself a small smile when his order of “raise your mouth so I can give you water” resulted in an immediate small movement against his chest, as her head automatically turned upward. She drank, and then settled back against him with a small sigh. He allowed himself to wrap his arms around her, and she nestled into them. He could stay like that forever, the gentle drip of the water around them, the hiss of the torch, the smell of sewage drifting up from the aqueducts below. It was all perfect to him.
(I’ve never fully bought the “going through water tunnels is exciting, not gross and sewagey” movie trope. Yes, even when it is Shahrukh and Priyanka as part of the sex police)
Anushka’s brain leaped forward. Rana was here, now, with her. He loved her, he cared for her. But where did they go from here? How long could she put off the inevitable? In a few minutes, or hours at the most, she would have to return to her life, let her maids fuss over her, there would be a full 4 hours of effort wasted on cleaning and perfuming and pampering before she could finally go to bed, that meeting with the temple priests was set for sunrise, 2 hours of sleep before that if she was lucky, then a hurried breakfast after the meeting, could she move her city security briefing to later? No, that meant she was all the way to lunch on two hours of sleep, and those gosh darn visitors were still here….NO! For once, she was going to force herself to be in the here and now. Right now, her body was too tired to allow her to move, there was nothing else she could be doing, she needed to distract herself. She asked the first thing that came to mind, “What is this place? Where are we?”
Rana was delighted! Information he could share, a way to give her something. “This is part of the old tunnels of the palace. They travel from top to bottom and out into the city.”
“How did you know about it?”
“My mother told me. She grew up here.”
“Oh,” Anushka was so tired, but she had to keep talking because otherwise she would be thinking, and that lead to no good, “my mother grew up in Kuntala. It is very beautiful there.”
“Is that where you grew up?” Usually Rana found conversation tiresome, so much of it was useless data. But with his Love, every bit of data was vital.
“No, I grew up in a workers village, on the edge of Kuntala and Mahishmati. My father was,” Anushka covered her pause with a long breath and then felt guilty when it resulted in a hasty application of water. But it gave her time to think, to quickly carve out a new version of the truth. “He was a teacher, and the village headman. My mother was a healer.”
Rana waited for her to continue. When she didn’t, he felt a strange urge to tell her of himself. Information was power, that was what his mother said, and he found himself wanting to give her that power, “My mother was a healer too. In Singapurum.”
“And your father?”
“He died. Before I was born.”
And she was! She really was. He hadn’t realized how nice it was to have some simple human sympathy. It made him babble on in a way he never thought he could have, “I don’t even remember him. I don’t think you can miss someone you can’t remember. But my mother remembers him. I used to hear her crying in the middle of the night.” He felt her move slightly, her hand weakly moving to his arm and gently stroking it. For a moment he almost wanted to cry. And then it passed, and instead he just wanted to stay here forever and tell her everything about himself. What more could he offer? He was about to tell her of the other reasons his mother cried, the reasons he only learned as an adult, the brutality of Mahishmati and why he had sworn to destroy it. But before he could, she spoke, her voice just above a whisper with a raspy sound, “My father used to cry at night. For his mother. She died before I was born, but he would tell me stories about her. I think he still misses her, and will all his life. Some things you don’t get over.”
(Now I am all said about middle-aged Prabhas 1 missing his mother! Oh well, at least middle-aged Anushka 1 is there to comfort him)
Her last statement felt like it was echoing around them. Was this something she couldn’t get over? This moment, now, sharing family stories? No! It couldn’t be. She had to remind him of that, and remind herself, “I have a brother too. And a sister-in-law and a little neice. She is named for me. I have to…”
Her voice gave out, he gently stroked her arm, and she felt his cheek settle atop her head while she took deep breaths. It was remarkable wonderful to feel someone supporting her while she struggled. Too wonderful, she had to fight back to her duty, find her way again. One more deep breath and…”I have to stay here, to work for Mahishmati, for them. If I am not serving her, my brother will have to, leaving his family behind. I have to stay here.” She turned her head, trying to see his face behind her, make sure he understood, “I have a duty here. I cannot forget it for anything.”
Rana blessed his lucky stars for his close escape! A few more moments and he might have admitted his goal. Her duty would naturally force her to capture him, and he would have no choice but to agree. His job would have become a lot more complicated if he had to do it from the dungeons. This way, she need not know, not until he had succeeded in his goals and freed her to return to her family, to bring them to live with her in the palace, whatever she chose. He had a brief flash of a moment weeks from now when he would lay the keys to the kingdom at her feet, giving her power over this place that captured her. But no, no time for dreaming, stay in the here and now.
He was very quiet. Anushka couldn’t read his face, even his breathing was regular. Did he understand her? Did he not care? She wished she had been like other girls, spending their time studying the faces of the boys in the neighborhood, tracing elaborate stories in a turn of the head or a wave of the hand. But no, she had preferred to spend that time reading those same stories in the flick of a knife hand or the twist of a shield. At the time she had pitied those other girls, wasting their time with useless thoughts about boring boys while she was learning something interesting. But now, for a brief moment, she wished she had been able to waste some of her time like then. But then he smiled suddenly, the first time she had ever seen him smile, and she felt it spread like a glow inside of her. It was all right, she didn’t need to be able to read the thoughts of every man, just him. And he was easy, delightfully easy. She smiled back at him, and then settled against his chest again, feeling his arms around her like a warm blanket, feeling the blood slowly tingle in her legs and arms, and a warm feeling settle around her heart.
(See how happy they are together!)
Oh shoot! Blood tingling in her legs and arms! She started to pull herself up, and his arms immediately loosened, while supporting her as she rose.
“What’s the matter?”
“I have to go, I’m well now, I have things to do.”
“Let me help you.”
Anushka suddenly flashed on him helping her to her chambers, being recognized by a servant, discovering his innocent Kuntala minor royal was the terrifying Queen of Mahishmati, “No! No. I can go myself. Just tell me the way. The Queen…..wouldn’t like it.”
Rana nodded. He understood. He had seen royals like that on his travels. They couldn’t let anyone have any life besides service. His poor Anushka, she was clearly running herself ragged helping this woman. Their lives would be so much better once his sword had tasted the blood of the Queen and they were both free of her, him of his vow to kill her and she of her vow to serve her. “You can find your way, just go straight to the end and tap the upper left corner. It will exit into the kitchen store rooms,” but still, he couldn’t just leave it like this. It wouldn’t be right, “Tell me, if I can’t help you back to your room, how else can I serve you? What do you want?”
What a tempting question! What did she want, out of everything in the world? With this tall strong man and his earnest eyes standing in front of her? She held out her and, palm up, and asked “Just love me.” His hand came down on hers with a powerful weight, so strong she almost faltered, “I swear it, forever.”
Anushka turned almost before he finished speaking, walking as quickly as she could down into the depths of the tunnel, afraid to look back, afraid to see him following her with his eyes.