* Author : Srikripa Krishna Prasad
* Narrator : S.B. Divya
* Host : Matt Dovey
* Audio Producer : Eric Valdes
* Artist : Cindy Fan
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PodCastle 759: INDIGENOUS MAGIC – Anu and the Vetala is a PodCastle original.
Content Warnings for references to sexual assault
Anu and the Vetala
by Srikripa Krishna Prasad
The marble-tile floor of King Vikramaditya’s throne room is cold against Anu’s forehead. As she prostrates herself before him, body curled into a ball as her forehead meets the point of her hands, she can’t help the contempt that rises in her throat like vomit. Such riches, while she has to beg in front of the court for a chance at life.
“Rise,” intones the king.
Teeth clacking as she fights back shivers, Anu painstakingly lifts herself to her feet and meets his eyes.
“What brings you here?” he asks, courteous.
Anu breathes in deeply, taking the opportunity to look around the throne room. The marble walls are gilded with gold and tall, carved pillars support the ceiling, which is painted with figures of the king in various battles. Cushions and mats surround the throne where the ministers and court musicians would usually sit — once a week, the king banishes them from court in case they are the subjects of a civilian’s complaint. The throne itself is just how the stories describe it — carved into it are the figures of the thirty-two apsaras, the virtuous spirits who recognized King Vikramaditya as the most noble of kings. The king’s wives are absent; Anu wonders if they are even allowed to be present when the king holds court.
Allowed to. Anu’s mouth curls, and she quickly controls herself. You need him, she reminds herself. He is the most generous of all kings.
“Your Majesty,” she begins at last. “I come at the behest of the many stories told all around the nation of your grace and benevolence. Tales of your generosity and courage have been recited loudly enough to reach even my small village, far in the south.”
The king smiles, pleased. Anu swallows, then continues. “Your Majesty, I have journeyed for one month to bow before you and make a request. You see, I am very ill.” Anu curbs the roll of her eyes as the guards conspicuously move away from her. “The physicians in my village could not find a cure, nor could the ones in the cities around me, until one finally revealed my condition is one that can only be cured by great magic.”
“This is truly unfortunate,” the king says. “What ails you?”
“Intermittent fevers,” Anu replies. “They used to come on every few months, but now they have been occurring weekly. I fear for my life, Your Grace.”
“I see,” the king says, thoughtful. “What is it that you seek from me?”
“I have heard that you employ a sorcerer.”
The king’s eyebrow arches. “Indeed, I do.” He gestures towards a man standing in the far corner of the throne room, who comes forward. He carries a wooden staff and is dressed in a plain, white dhoti. Something about him reminds Anu of a coiled snake about to pounce.
“Speak, sorcerer,” says the king, “and tell this woman if you may assist her.”
“Your Majesty,” the sorcerer says, lying flat on his stomach and bowing to the king before getting to his feet. His eyes turn to Anu, assessing. “I have indeed heard of the illness of which you speak.