Two hours ago, while Veerata was being welcomed in the banquet hall, Satya had woken up inside a strange, cold and dark basement. At first, her head was still sore from the impact of the wooden cane. Apart from the two young maidens from the hamlet, who she had seen being shoved into the palanquin, she found three more girls being held hostage there. Of the three, two were also from the hamlet - the same girls who had been reported missing - and the third was a stranger from outside town. Satya tried asking them if they had any clue how they had got to the place. But the maidens were in complete shock, crying bitterly. They remembered nothing of the palanquin ride or the place where they were made to dismount. When she was able to stand up without her head hurting, Satya checked the entire place. The young maidens explained that the only door to the place was locked shut and guarded at all times. There was no other exit, except for a couple of narrow ventilator shafts, carved high up on one wall. It seemed like there was no hope for them.
“Satya, I’m scared,” one of the maidens cried, trembling all over. Satya hugged her and patted her head, comfortingly. She had no words to reassure her. She didn’t know where they were or what would happen to them. All she knew was that she had to keep her wits about her and look for a chance to escape. After what seemed like ages, the door opened and two guards, dressed in masks and black attire like the kidnappers, walked in carrying a pitcher of water and a tray of food. The other girls screamed and huddled behind Satya. Without saying a word, they placed the pitcher and tray on the floor. One of them advanced towards the group of trembling maidens. Up close, he looked huge and terrifying. Only his cruel eyes were visible above the mask that covered the rest of his face.
Satya stared back at him. “What do you want from us?” she barked. “Let us go!”
Ignoring her, the man bent forward and stretched his arm out towards the nearest young maiden. He tried to grab her wrist before she could back further away from him. In a swift move, Satya raised her foot and kicked upwards at his bent head, landing a clean hit on his nose. He jerked backwards howling in pain, his hands on his face. The other man rushed to his aid. The wailing maiden backed away to the corner of the wall. Satya was standing on her feet now.
“What have you done?” the second man hollered. “His nose is broken.” The cloth around the first man’s face was tainted dark with blood.
“I told you,” Satya hissed. “Let us go! Why did you kidnap us? Why are you keeping us here?”
“Foolish girl, you won’t get away with this!”
“Foolish man, can’t you hear me? Let us go! Now!”
Irritated, the man raised his hand to slap her. Everything happened very fast. Satya was determined not to give in this time. She regretted allowing her fear to paralyse her before. She ducked low and kicked his left leg. He slipped and landed on his face. The bruised leg smashed into the water pitcher behind. The earthen pot shattered. It’s shards cut deep into the man’s shin. His cries brought more masked men through the open door. “What’s happening here?” a terrible cry thundered through the dark room. Satya recognized the voice of the man who had ordered to put her in the palanquin. Three more men stood behind him. He seemed to be the leader of the kidnappers. His deathly aura pervaded the entire basement. The two men, collapsed on the floor, began complaining about Satya’s behaviour.
“She broke my nose,” the first man mumbled.
“She kicked me,” the second man cried.
“Morons,” the leader barked. “Can’t you do anything right? I told you to bring one girl upstairs to Adipati. Do I have to do everything by myself?”
Adipati? Satya wondered at the title. It was a Sanskrit word, meaning ‘master’, used for feudal lords, in Satayu, who did not report to the Emperor. However, Satvikshila was a university town, under Padmapani’s patronage. Brahmadatta is a government employee. Who is Adipati? Before she could think further, she saw the leader approaching her. Her fear returned. She realised this man was stronger than the two men she had already defeated. He was dressed exactly the same as the others. The only marked difference was a gold lining to his turban. Instinctively, she backed away from him. The girls behind her squealed again. When the man caught her left wrist, she pounded his arm with her right fist. “Release me,” she cried, struggling to get out of his solid grip. “Release me, right now!”
The other three men laughed at her plight. “She looks like a mouse hitting a lion,” they cried in glee.
The leader seemed amused as well. “You little wretch,” he sneered at her. “How dare you hurt my men?”
Anger reddened Satya’s eyes. She spat into the man’s face. “You scoundrel! How dare you kidnap us?” He considered her for a moment, then turned to his men.
“Take this one upstairs,” he ordered. “She will learn some manners tonight.”
“But Adipati said-,” one of the three men tried to reason with him.
“Take her upstairs!” The leader pushed Satya towards the three men. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed the open door behind them. Before anyone could stop her, she pushed the men aside and ran towards the exit.