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Kuveni, the Queen of Lanka

Discarded by the King, Kuveni fights for her children

*Kuveni is the mythical first queen of Lanka. Legend states that when Vijaya, the rebellious offshoot of an Indian royal family, landed on the island, it was inhabited by several yakka (demon) tribes, one of which Kuveni was the princess of. Though she first used her sorcery to imprison Vijaya’s men, she later fell in love with him and abandoned her people for his, helping him massacre the yakkas, as well as becoming his bride and bearing his children. Once his power as King is consolidated, and their marriage no longer politically expedient, Vijaya discarded her in favour of a young Indian princess. Two equally tragic versions of the exiled Kuveni’s fate exist; she was either killed by those she betrayed or committed suicide after having cursed Vijaya and his progeny.*

The queen spends her last night in the palace alone, and awake. 

She paces the length of her chamber like a caged animal, her mind turning deft and chaotic, scheming as if by habit, plotting wild schemes of retribution, even now trying to carve herself out of her predicament. 

Sometimes, her self-control slips, and she screams, spewing forth an incoherent litany of curses, spells and profanities that end in laughter, or sobs, or both. He has stationed two guards before her chambers, and she can smell their fear- its rank animal scent becoming sharper with every outburst of hers. 

Most of the time, however, she sits quietly by her children. They lie on her bed deep in an enchanted sleep, and she kisses their young skin, snaking a finger through her daughter’s hair, touching the barest tip of her son’s eyelashes. They are fine and long, like his father’s. 

He hadn’t wanted them with her tonight, but she’d persuaded him otherwise. 

‘Please, my Lord,’ she’d begged him, letting her eyes fill with tears half-real and half-willed. ‘I am their mother. Let me spend this one night with them, and I promise you I will leave quietly before they wake.’

When his gaze had refused to soften, she had thrown herself at his feet. She could feel the court staring at her, lust and fear mingling in their eyes as they surveyed the human form, she’d assumed upon first seeing him decades ago, and which remained as unnaturally lovely as it had been then. 

‘Have pity on a mother’s soft heart, my Lord.’ 

Besides, he too had been playing a part- that of the noble king, who could not refuse his poor, fallen wife her last request in open court. No, he would not want to seem…unchivalrous before those whose words would carry his legacy onto posterity. 

The Queen curls her lips at the memory of those fawning fools tripping over themselves in their haste to glorify him in history books. They would write of Good King Vijaya- civilizing those primitive tribes, remaining charitable towards his embarrassment of a wife- that demon, that witch, the whore who magicked her way into his bed- till the end. They would gloss over the ruthlessness with which he had massacred those who had defied him, the pleasure he had taken in the killing. Time would soften the jagged edges of his reputation, obscure the blood trailing in his wake until he faded into some hazy, heroic myth.  

They will not be so kind to me. They will forget me- how I spied for him and schemed with him, taught him the lay of the land and the secrets of my people. They will forget that my sorcery won his battles as much as his sword did. 

‘The children are mine,’ he’d told her earlier, bluntly. ‘You have no claim upon them, Woman. Go, and let them grow safe and happy here.’

No claim. Her mind returns to how she had laughed in wonder in this very room the first time her son stirred with life inside her, how she’d run to her husband and cupped his hands around her belly, watching the same wild reverence she felt cross his face. No claim, to her body. 

I will take them, husband she thinks. I will rob you of the joy of seeing them grow, of seeing your son harden into a warrior and your daughter enter womanhood. Then, I will muster all that I have in me, and make it so that you will have no child to sit on this throne you killed for. Your line and legacy will die with you; strangers will inherit your titles and make your palace their home. I will take these from you, as you took much from me. 

The Queen walks to the doors of her chambers and opens them. The guardsmen lie where she knew they would in an inglorious heap, never to wake up. Returning to her children, she traces her fingers over their cheeks in languorous circles until they begin to stir. 

‘Wake up, little ones,’ she whispers. ‘We must go.’ 

Main artwork has been produced by South Asian Today's Designer, Charanja Thavendran, @tararaemerd

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About the author

I am a psych student on loan from Sri Lanka to Melbourne. I'm usually found rotting away in some corner of my uni library, but once in about 23 days I might be seen abandoning all hope of being a future homeowner by digging into an overpriced avocado toast and coffee.



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