When Satya woke up, it took her a fraction of a second to realise that she was not in her own bed, up in the loft of her home. She sat jolt upright and blinked.
Did she fall asleep again?
Hurriedly, she clutched at the poultice preparing to apply it to the wound. “You’re awake,” the young general’s voice made her jump. His handsome face came into view. He was sitting upright now, his back resting against his pillow. “Did I not tell you to go home last night?” he demanded, sternly.
“Forgive me!” In a panic, she sprang up and scooted away from the bed. The poultice fell from her hands. Her foot stumbled on Vidyuta’s bag and other items lying on the floor behind her. With a bump, she landed on her bottom. “Ow!”
Veerata passed a hand across his mouth. A devilish twinkle shone in his blazing, amber-coloured eyes. Satya felt mortified at his obvious amusement. He must have felt sorry seeing her reaction. He cleared his throat and put on a serious face.
“Thank you,” he said, kindly.
“What?” she asked, confused.
“The doctor told me everything,” he explained, “about your treatment. I must thank you for your help.”
His words brought no comfort. She had planned to leave quietly at daylight but she couldn't remember when she fell asleep. She wanted to avoid speaking to him again. Her mind was in turmoil. She still hated him but she had healed his wound with her powers and now he was thanking her. The young doctor was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps, it was time to leave.
“How long are you planning to sit on the floor?” he teased.
Satya stood up, immediately, feeling even more embarrassed. “Pranam, Senapati,” she said, remembering her manners and joining her palms.
“You know who I am?”
“Everyone knows who you are,” she shrugged.
“Are you afraid of me?”
“I’m not going to eat you. You’ve been working all night. You must be tired. Come closer and sit down.”
Satya felt her annoyance mounting. He was still making fun of her. “I’m not tired,” she declared. “I feel fine. I prefer to stand.”
“Very well,” he smiled, unable to hold back his mirth at her expense.
“If you are feeling better, I will go home now,” she pouted.
“My guards will take you home.”
“There’s no need.”
“Let me be the judge of that. You saved my life. It’s the least I can do.” Their eyes met. She gulped. He was smiling at her with such undisguised warmth.
What was this strange feeling? Was she happy to see him smiling? Impossible!
“The doctor told me that you are a medical student at the university.”
Satya nodded. “Acharya Dhanwantari is my teacher.”
“I’ve heard a lot about Acharya. But I’ve never met him.”
“He taught me everything I know about ayurveda.”
“I must thank him for teaching you so well.”
The remark made her grin, happily. It was a most innocent reaction to a well-deserved compliment. But Satya was not prepared for what followed. Veerata’s smile vanished. His blazing, amber-coloured eyes widened a notch in pure fascination. His look sent a strange thrill down her spine. She lowered her eyes at the burning intensity of his gaze. “I must go home now,” she mumbled.
“Wait,” he said, recollecting himself. “You must wait a little longer. I still have a couple of things to ask you. First, I must offer you a reward for saving me. Is there anything you want?”
“You promised to help release the girls who were kidnapped with me.”
He nodded. “I remember. That would be my duty, though. It cannot be your reward. Is there nothing else you want? What about money?”
“I am not a doctor yet. I can’t accept payments for treating anyone.”
Veerata threw back his head and laughed. It was a warm and happy sound. The corners of her mouth twitched upwards hearing it. Just then, Vidyuta opened the door a crack and popped his head in. “Senapati, the guards have brought Brahmadatta.”
Satya looked at the young general in alarm. “Don’t be afraid,” he said, reading her mind. “Just follow my lead.” He nodded to Vidyuta. “Please let him in.” Vidyuta walked into the room, followed by the mayor and the two guards.
“Senapati,” Brahmadatta cried. “I heard you were unwell last night. How are you feeling now?” Satya controlled her anger on seeing him.
“Brahmadatta,” the young general’s voice held a dangerous tone. “Why did you send this girl to my room last night?”
“What girl?” the mayor looked at Satya pretending to be confused.
“There is only one girl standing in this room. Please answer me truthfully.”
“I don’t understand.”
Veerata looked at Satya. “This is my second question to you, Satya. Do you swear you heard this man speaking when they were bringing you to my room last night?”
“Yes,” Satya answered. “I recognised his voice.”
“Impossible!” Brahmadatta looked fearful.
“Arrest him,” the young general ordered his guards. As they pulled up on either side of him, grasping his arms, he started to plead his innocence. Veerata interrupted him. “Brahmadatta, my guards have already arrested your men. In the name of Samrat Padmapani, I sentence you to death by hanging.”