Pallada Nayak spared no expense for the wedding. The moon rose high over the village green as liquor flowed freely and cauldrons of wild boar, chicken, mutton, vegetable, and egg curries were hauled from the open-air kitchens. The two shifts of musicians played without a break, Thimmaya and the other men dipping and swaying to the wail of their trumpets. The groom had arrived, and he and his family were being feted and fed. Women bustled about in shimmering silks, their faces rendered even more alluring by moonlight. Jewels glowed against their satiny skins.
Wide adigé collars of uncut rubies banded their necks, and ropes of golden-beaded jomalé, and coral pathaks with hooded cobra pendants, their ruby eyes flashing fire. Half-moon kokkéthathis of seed pearls and gold swung at their breasts. Bangles --- elephant headed, gemstone studded, plain, and filigreed --- were slung about their wrists, diamonds sparkling in seven starred clusters from their ears.
Muthavva sat with the other nursing and pregnant women, exempt from hostessing chores. Children were running about, her own boy no doubt getting up to mischief somewhere in the melee. Thimmaya's mother would keep an eye on him and see that he was fed. She was content to sit here and listen to the chatter, the relaxed weight of her sleeping daughter in her arms.
What a pretty bride Gauru made, the women sighed, a trifle large, it was true, but who could deny the sweetness of her face? He was a lucky man, her husband, and... "Uyyi!" they exclaimed, as a pack of laughing boys came hurtling through the crowd and collided with Muthavva.
"Is this any way to behave?" the women scolded, as the boys sheepishly untangled themselves. "Do you have pebbles for eyes, can you not see where you are going? See now, you have woken the baby and made her cry."
"Sorry, we are sorry," they apologized, backing away.
One of them, though, barely ten or eleven years old, stood his ground, gazing at the bawling Devi. "By all the Gods, she is loud!" he observed, his golden-brown eyes dancing with amusement.
"It is a wonder my ears can still hear." Before Muthavva could object, he reached with a grubby finger to touch Devi's cheek and, flashing an engaging, dimpled grin, disappeared into the crowd.
Shushing Devi back to sleep, irritated that she hadn't scolded the boy more thoroughly, Muthavva never saw the flock of herons that rose silently from the trees, silhouetted against the moon as they passed over the green.
Excerpted from Tiger Hills © Copyright 2011 by Sarita Mandanna. Reprinted with permission by Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.
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