" Can I speak to you if you have a few minutes to spare?" Tarini inched towards Arnav.
"Khushi, I have all the time in the world for you. Please, say what you want to say."
"Khushi? Who is that?" Tarini made a surprised face. Khushi sounded like a woman's name in an unknown language. Does he have an affair with another woman?
"Who is Khushi you ask? Well, do you remember I had asked you to address me using my name?"
" Is Khushi your name? If it is, I can't address you by that name either." Tarini blabbered.
"Hmm...Khushi is not my name, Khushi is what I shall call you, princess." Arnav smiled and held Tarini's hand.
"But you can call me Tarini. It is out of respect that I don't call out your name."
" Well, just consider that I have the same respect for you, Khushi."
Tarini's heart bloomed like a lotus in a pond as she heard him refer to her with a special name.
"What does Khushi mean? This doesn't sound like Sanskrit." She smiled and asked.
"Last year, I had interacted with traders from a far away desert. I had taken great interest in learning their language to establish better trade relations with them. They had magnificent horses."
"Wow! You interacted with Persian traders? I have never even seen them!" Tarini exclaimed.
"Yes, Persian. It seems like I have truly underestimated you. I didn't expect you to know things about other countries."
" One of my sisters had been boasting that her husband owned a Persian horse to make us all jealous that we didn't own any such magnificent beast." Tarini made a face.
"If it makes you any happier, we have around 100 Persian horses in our Royal stable. In fact, my horse, Veer is Persian in breed."
" Really? Can I ride it someday please?" Tarini batted her eyelids, trying to persuade him.
" Why someday? You can ride it even today." Arnav held her hand and led her towards the royal stable.
The corridors of the palace echoed with her giggles making the the walls of the palace seem brighter against the midday sun.
" Veer, I want you to meet Khushi." Arnav talked animatedly to his horse making Tarini smile.
"You are a really handsome stallion, Veer!" Tarini ran her hands through the horse's mane and kissed him between his eyes.
" Should I help you climb on him?" Arnav asked.
Tarini looked around for a stool to climb the horse.
"Yes please, there isn't any stool here." She frowned.
She looked around in feeling shy as Arnav lifted her by her waist and helped her climb the horse.
He straightened the end of her saree and sat behind her.
"Can you tell me the directions for some nice place nearby? We will go there?" Tarini smiled and asked innocently.
"Sure!" Arnav said as Tarini patted the horse, indicating him to move forward.
" Is that the sea? What is this place?" Tarini gasped seeing the mesmerizing view in front of her.
"This is a beach, Khushi. In a few minutes the sun shall set down into the sea and the whole sky shall turn red. It would be a really beautiful sight, less beautiful than you though."
Tarini blushed and got down from the horse.
" Can we go near the water?" She held his hand.
" You had told me that you know how to swim, so yes!" He smiled making Tarini laugh.
She held his arm tightly and giggled as the cold waves clashed against her feet.
" The sea is so cold!" She exclaimed as a huge wave approached her knees making her stumble.
She sat on the ground and played with the waves approaching her.
" You look so happy like this, Khushi."
" Why won't I be happy today? Today has been a marvellous day. Your brother didn't get crowned as the Emperor, I got to ride such a beautiful Persian horse and I am in front of the omnipotent sea feeling it's blessings against my body. Last but not the least, we are going to see the sunset together, today. This is the best and happiest day of my life till date.
However, when you shall win tomorrow and shall become the Emperor of Aaranya shall truly be the happiest day for me.
I am happy that you agreed for the challenge. You deserve to be the emperor." Tarini smiled.
"Why? Is it because you want to be the Empress?" Arnav raised his eyebrow.
" Well, partially yes. But more than my dreams it is about Aaranya's future that I am concerned about. It has to be in safe hands and I trust you. You are a good man. No one treats his enemy's daughter as nicely as you have."
"And how do you know that I befit the position of the emperor? We barely know each other, Khushi!"
"True, we barely know each other. I know that you have a kind and humble heart which beats for your people. You want to take care of their needs like if you are their ...their ...their father." She started sobbing and turned her face to hide her tears. Arnav turned her face towards himself and made her sit comfortably on his lap.
"Hush...hush don't cry!" he slowly wiped her tears.
"My father never cared, for the people, for his daughters... He was so greedy *sob* for the throne he killed his elder brother* sob* my actual father. Now I am an orphan, I have no one." Overwhelmed with tears, she hugged him.
"You are wrong, Khushi. You have me forever!"
"Really?" Khushi looked into his eyes and he nodded.
"However, more than me your kingdom needs you, your people need you. After your father ...they too are like an orphan and I understand the pain of being an orphan. I don't want anybody to face that pain." Tarini buried her face in his chest.
"I am sorry, Khushi. I and my father did this to you..."He caressed her back.
"Please don't apologize to me. Whatever happened, happened for good.
In fact now I realize what your father did for me was correct; he freed me from that illusion of a family."
"We destroyed your family and you keep such high opinion about us?"
"Your father was a good emperor and I hope you too shall follow his footsteps. That is what is important."
Both stared deep into each other 's eyes. Realizing the proximity of the situation Khushi blushed and tried to get up from Arnav's lap.
"You didn't tell me yet, what does Khushi mean?" She asked shyly.
"Happiness. You are my happiness", he kissed her forehead.
" And you are my happiness." Tarini leaned against his chest and sighed. It was in the comfort of each other's arms that the watched the sun set into the deep ocean.
"It's getting late. Tomorrow is an important day. We should start heading for home now." Arnav said, helping Tarini stand up.
They went forward towards the horse when Tarini suddenly noticed a rumble in the mangroves nearby.
"Hai Bhagwaan!" Tarini exclaimed as she pushed Arnav away down to the ground. A poisonous arrow had peirced through Tarini's veil in an ttempt to save Arnav.
" Khushi! You...Are you fine?" Arnav asked concernedly as he noticed the arrow and a figure escaping into the forest.
" I... I am fine! Let's go to the kingdom as soon as possible, please. I am not feeling safe here. That person...that person wanted to kill you!" Tarini spoke hysterically, clutching his hand and leading him towards the horse.
Tarini held his hand tightly during the whole journey, petrified of the arrow that had tried to attack her husband.
Arnav held her waist tightly and continued smiling.
Khushi, you are best thing that has ever happened to me.