Instant recap: Marcus has induced a vivid past-life experience for his wife Gail: she seems to be physically present in a situation where they were incarnate as husband and wife in 19th-century India. With a shock she discovers that he has other wives as well….
7. The Number One Wife
“What is it, Nitya?” said Anushia with concern. “You suddenly went pale, as if you had seen a spirit.”
Gail/Nitya struggled to keep her composure under the weight of the revelation of her husband’s polygamy. Anushia’s empathy made it a little easier; she shook herself slightly and said, “It’s nothing, just a touch of dyspepsia. Thank you, sister, I’m fine.” As she said it, her Gail-mind recalled that they regarded one another as “sister-wives”. She also remembered that her “sister” on the other divan was named Lavina. She, too, now expressed concern about Nitya’s immediate state of health, and after reassuring her, Gail (for so she remained in her mind) said, “Anushia, Pravahan wants you now.”
Anushia glanced at Lavina with a sly but sisterly smirk, then arose to fulfill her Lord’s desire. She took Nitya’s hands for a moment and looked in her eyes. “Something is indeed troubling you, dear. Perhaps we can speak of it on the morrow.”
“Perhaps,” replied she of the divided self. Anushia passed through the door to the bedchamber, and Gail resolved to identify herself as Nitya, as fully as she could until she returned to her proper place in the labyrinth of time. She felt a twinge of fear at the thought that she didn’t know how long that would be. She hoped that Marcus was somehow in control of the situation.
When a certain hour passed and Anushia did not reemerge, Nitya and Lavina left the anteroom for their own bedroom, used by whichever wives were not sleeping with Pravahan. They stopped at the nursery where Lavina gently picked up her sleeping child, a girl who looked about two. There was also a boy a couple of years older, and seeing him sparked the memory for Nitya that he was the son of a fourth wife ~ or actually the first wife, whose name was Radha, the eldest and highest-ranking in the harem’s pecking order. The memory quickly fleshed out that that term was relevant, for Radha’s treatment of Nitya was often less than sisterly. Nitya was the youngest and newest wife, only eighteen, and Radha was definitely jealous of her youthful attraction. Pravahan was aware of it, and did his best to foster sisterly love in Radha and constrain her injustice to Nitya, but she had a lot of leeway within the special female circle of the harem.
Nitya went to sleep hoping desperately that she would awaken as Gail in the arms of Marcus, but it was not to be. “Damn, I’m still in India!” she thought, finally pressed into a bit of profanity. How long could this go on?
That morning she was doing childcare for the two children because Radha was away and Lavina had other duties. The girl was brought in first; her name was Vaidehi, and she ran into Nitya’s arms telling about a wonderful dream she had had. How adorable! thought Nitya; what a precious little girl. The nurse’s skin was brown, and now it occurred to her that this was true only of the servants; Pravahan and his wives and children were so white that they could pass as Europeans. Her studies as Gail gave her the impression that this was rare for India in this epoch, but evidently there were still pure Aryan strains in the upper castes.
“Niraj is romping about as usual,” said the nurse; “I imagine he’ll be in directly.”
“Yes, of course,” said Nitya. “You may go.”
The nurse bowed, and as she turned to leave said: “Ah ~ here he is!”
Niraj bounced into the room jauntily, and said the equivalent of “Good morning, Aunt Nitya.”
At the sight of him awake, Nitya’s mind was swamped by that of Gail, who recognized the boy as her own son Eric. His face and form were of course very different from the infant, but to her mother’s eyes and instinct there could be no doubt.
This time she recovered quickly, having grown accustomed to repeated astonishments. She allowed the Nitya-persona to take over and said with a smile, “Have you been up to your pranks already, Niraj?”
“Who me?” he said with mock innocence, and the Gail-presona realized that he was very precocious. The rest of the morning was spent in play and other activities with the two children. Gail found it incredibly gratifying to observe the propensities and personality-traits that were likely to developm in Eric, as demonstrated by this boy who harbored his soul in an earlierjourney. Now she felt glad to be having this strange experience, and reflected that Marcus was right: she now knew the truth of reincarnation with total subjective certainty.
Luncheon was a semi-formal occasion presided over by Pravahan, with two of his military comrades as guests. Nitya’s awareness informed Gail that her husband in this life was a high-ranking Kshatrya, the warrior caste. Conversation at table was a mix of pleasantries involving the women, and serious debate among the men about how best to deal with the British invasion. Just as the servants were clearing the plates at the end, a messenger arrived and announced that Radha was returning ~ her carriage was only a mile away. “Gods be praised!” said Pravahan, joyfully rising from his seat. “Come,” he exorted his two friends, “let’s ride out and meet her.” They happily acceded, and all went out tailed by an excited Niraj, who watched the men mount their horses and set off at a gallop down the road.
Nitya was less joyful than the others at the news, because of her problematic relationship with Radha. Gail, though, was very curious, and intrigued by the prospect of seeing her. Soon the riders returned as a de facto honor guard for the carriage, which pulled up at the front gateway. Wives, children, and servants had gathered to greet their lady. Pravahan dismounted and ceremonially opened the door of the carriage. Out stepped a radiantly beautiful woman in a silk sari, tastefully bedecked with gems. The sight alone might have taken her breath away, but Gail
was doubly dumbfounded as she beheld a slightly older, slightly altered, but unmistakable incarnation of Avice/Venus.
Gail’s vision clouded, and she feared that she was about to faint dead away. She felt strong arms supporting her, and opened her eyes upon Marcus. For a moment she couldn’t believe it, then hugged him convulsively and wept.