In the private courtroom at Anagha, King Dharmasena sat on the carved seat that served as his throne.
This room was a place reserved for internal discussions with his nobles and Senapathi Vajrabahu. The
King usually entertained public in the open space in the courtyard of the fortress of Anagha. This
courtroom was assured a heavy guard and abundant privacy for strategic discussion. As Dharmasena
plunged into a grave discussion with Vajrabahu, neither of them suspected that a third pair of eyes and
ears were being a witness to their conversation.
She had a clear vantage point from an elevated platform erected on the corridor behind the courtroom.
She sat rooted to the spot, fixing her gaze on the King through the aesthetic holes carved into the wall
“This is the third consecutive raid by the robbers on the party of traders arriving with the harvest, My
King.” She heard Vajrabahu say as a frown brought his brows together.
“I find it hard to believe that our soldiers were incapable of guarding them, Senapathi” Dharmasena
said, his right hand pounding at the armrest of his throne.
Even while keenly listening to the conversation, she felt a presence behind her. She turned around, her
eyes widening with alarm. She smiled as she recognized her companion.
“Jayanthi” She acknowledged her friend. “Shhhh! Sit here and see through this hole” She whispered.
Jayanthi obliged.“You must focus on the Senapathi. I shall observe the King.” She instructed while not
missing the proceedings in the courtroom.
“Why so?” Jayanthi asked as she trained her gaze on to Vajrabahu.
“After this, I shall be the King, I mean the Queen and you, my Commander.” She whispered with a wide
“Really!” Jayanthi’s tone went up in a pleasant surprise only to be sternly shushed. The silent
“This cannot be the handwork of highway robbers, Vajrabahu. Our soldiers and guards are trained for
years under the best trainers from Avanthi.” Dharmasena thought aloud.
“I suspect the same, My King. Forgive me for these words, but let me point out that this is the first time
we chose to buy the produce from Matsyadesha instead of Avanthi.” Vajrabahu raised a finger. “And our
soldiers are not inferior fighters, My King. They have survived even in situations when they were being
outnumbered by robbers. I suspect those robbers are not really robbers. They are trained fighters hired
“Vajrabahu, do you doubt the King of Avanthi, our ancestral friend?” Dharmasena raised his tone in
“I do not doubt your esteemed friend, Lord. I am only putting my observations together, My King. If they
point at Avanthi, I can’t help a suspicion.” Vajrabahu replied with the same firmness. His long association
gave him the unusual privilege to openly disagree with the King and the latter had never discouraged
“Let me quell your suspicion, friend.” Dharmasena responded. His hauled brows and curved lips showed
Vajrabahu that his King did have an idea. “Issue a letter to my friend, that we shall buy the produce of
this harvest from Avanthi too. Another contingent of our soldiers shall follow these traders from a
distance. If this consignment is raided, we shall be sure that my old friend does not have anything to do
with this.”Vajrabahu sighed and nodded.
“Are you observing him closely?” She asked as she paused listening to the long conversation.
Jayanthi nodded at what seemed more like acommand than a question and sensed a third presence.
“Princess Abhaya?” An old guard exclaimed. “And it is Jayanthi along with you. This corridor needs a
lamp even during the day! I almost missed seeing you both in this darkness.” He added with a bow.
The seven year old nodded at him with a grin. “We are busy, Dwarapala.” She added trying to dismiss
him and turned back towards the courtroom.
“They have gone.” Jayanthi informed as Abhaya stared at the empty courtroom.
“Never mind,let us go.” Abhaya ran down the pedestal with her ten year old companion following her.
The girls sprang into activity as soon as they reached Abhaya’s room where she took her position on the
couch placing the embroidered cushions to serve as an arm rest. Jayanthi seated herself on the seat
“My soldiers cannot be defeated by mere highway robbers!” Abhaya hit the cushions hard with her right
hand and moved her left towards her hip. She realized that something was missing.
“Oh! We forgot the swords, princess.” Jayanthi exclaimed stepping out of her role as the commander.
She hurried towards one of the closets by the wall and pulled out two light weight wooden bars carved
to look like swords. After securing one each to their hips the girls resumed their role play.
Jayanthi continued the dialogue. “My Queen, let me point out that the robber raids occurred only after
we started buying the produce from Matsyadesha. They never attacked when we used to buy them
from Avanthi.” She held the hilt of her make believe sword imitating Vajrabahu.
Abhaya stood up from the couch trying to look as contemplative as she had found her father at times.
“Avanthi shall pay for this.”
Jayanthi looked alarmed. “I remember the King telling something else. He said the King of Avanthi is his
friend! Why are you telling something else?”
“Jayanthi, don’t stop the game so many times!” Abhaya said almost annoyed. She then shrugged and sat
back on the couch being herself. “Listen to me. Father and the King Jayasena of Avanthi are friends. But
when I am the Queen, the King of Avanthi is Vinda or Anuvinda. And they are not my friends. Don’t you
remember how mean they were when we had gone there? Yes, if their sister Mitravinda becomes the
Queen, then we shall continue to be friends.”
Jayanthi looked up sighing at the new turn that Abhaya had brought into the game.
Abhaya saw her lost expression and continued to explain. “She is not like her brothers. She would not
attack and rob what we buy. But Vinda and Anuvinda would. Now let us go back to the game.”
She went back to where she stood a while ago, facing the window behind the couch. “Where was I? Yes,
Avanthi shall pay for this. We are going to demand them to return the sacks of grain they robbed. If they
don’t…” Abhaya drew out her toy sword and looked at the sky in mock anger. “…we shall attack them
and teach them a lesson.”
She waited for the reply and turned back when she did not hear anything.
“Father!” She exclaimed at seeing a grinning Dharmasena on the spot where Jayanthi had stood
earlier.The latter seemed to have disappeared without a trace.
“My Queen, invincible as you are when you unsheathe your blade…” he started with the usual
statement of Vajrabahu imitating his commander’s smile.
Abhaya giggled at the near to perfect mimicry and then returned to the solemn expression.
Dharmasena continued, “Let me point out that you, my Queen,want to attack a kingdom whose army is
ten times stronger than ours.”
“Our soldiers are trained by superior trainers!” Abhaya protested in her own way forgetting to imitate
“So are their soldiers.” Dharmasena replied with an indulgent wink.
“Father,” Abhaya interrupted the role play as a thought struck her. “I, brother Vikram and Veerabahu
will add three more to our army. Don’t we?”
“The boys are still learning, child. And you are yet to start learning. How can I count you into the army?”
Abhaya turned sullen at the reply and looked away.“Brother Vikram does not teach me. He tells me that
I can’t yet hold the sword.”
“Isn’t he right? See for yourself.” Dharmasena extended the hilt of his own sword. The very moment,
Abhaya reached out to hold it. The excitement was short lived as she found that her hand could not
cover the circumference of the hilt.
Dharmasena sheathed his blade and smiled. Sensing her disappointment, he extended his arms.
“Morning meal?Your favorite dish awaits you, my little Queen.”
Abhaya remained unmoved. “I neither want to eat, nor am I a Little Queen!I want to be like Queen
Vishpala, fight my enemies and defeat them all!” She frowned hard looking at her own palm which had
Dharmasena lifted her, charmed at the very sulking expression. Something reminded him of a certain
maiden who had charmed him years ago and had become the very soul of his life. The very soul could
notlive much beyond the birth of her daughter.
The memories passed in his mind seeming like they happened only the previous day. Dharmasena held
Abhaya tightly against his chest, partly with emotions and partly wanting to hide the moisture in his
eyesfrom her. The maids of the palace had always opined that his daughter had taken after him in many
ways. Still, he found his Queen alive in Abhaya’s eyes when they flashed the characteristic defiance or
when she sulked in rebellion or even when she shrieked in excitement.
“You shall, my child. You shall fight and defeat your enemies.”
“But how?” Abhaya demanded, refusing to believe any make believe consolation.
“You shall grow older and taller. Then you should be able to hold the sword. Vikram shall then teach you
how to wield it.” Dharmasena continued in his indulgent conversation. Abhaya looked again at her palm
and responded with a slight curve on her lips.
“And to grow fast, you must eat your meal.” Dharmasena concluded hoping to convince her.
“And while I eat, you must tell me a story.” Abhaya conceded though in her own terms as her father
nodded with a chuckle.
Abhaya saw the court of Avanthi from an elevated Balcony which presented a clear view of the
proceedings. This court was more of a hall, many times larger than that at Anagha. She saw the raised
platform carrying the intricately carved throne on which, King Jayasena was seated. The face of the lion
embedded on the arch of the throne glowed against the light of Sunrays which fell upon it. She looked
for her father who was seated on a relatively simpler but nevertheless rich seat a couple of steps lower
than the royal throne. Dharmasena was immersed in a discussion with the King of Avanthi.
From her position, it was hard for Abhaya to hear and comprehend the whole of the conversation. This
courtroom had too many strangers. She raised her palm to cover the yawn when a hand on her shoulder
provided a welcome break. She was happy to have company.
“You look like you listen to the court without missing a word.” The princess of Avanthi asked. Her effort
to hide an amused smile was unsuccessful.
“But I don’t understand much.” Abhaya replied stretching her arms and pulling at the parapet. She then
moved closer to the thirteen year old Mitravinda.
“Do you want to come to the temple of Mahakala?” Mitravinda offered.
The eight year old shook her head. “Even there, we would have nothing to do but stare. Can we actually
Mitravinda exited the balcony, beckoning Abhaya to follow her. “Yes, we can play your favourite game.”
Abhaya’s eyes brightened as she hurried to match the pace of the taller girl. “I shall be the Queen of
Anagha and you, the Queen of Avanthi. We can play that. But…” She hesitated and glanced back in the
direction of the court. “Can we sit at the same height?”
Mitravinda chuckled. “You really like playing that game. Don’t you?”
“You too like being the Queen of Avanthi. Don’t you?” Abhaya asked glancing at the open side of the
corridor behind the court room. Multiple guards bowed as the two princesses neared a gateway.
“I used to like it before.” Mitravinda smiled. “But now, I know I cannot become the Queen of Avanthi.”
“Why Mitra?... I mean Princess Mitra” Abhaya corrected herself as her father had taught her at an
Mitravinda frowned at the offer of formal address. “You can call me Mitra, at least in private and as
elder sister when others are there. And yes, I cannot become the Queen of Avanthi as my brother Vinda
would become the King.”
“But why can’t you?” Abhaya persisted as she failed to understand.
Mitravinda sighed. “You are young and so might not know this. Even you can’t become the Queen of
Anagha as your Brother Vikram would ascend the throne. A brother and sister can’t become King AND
Queen respectively. The King and Queen are a husband and wife.”
Abhaya pondered over silently “A husband and wife?”
“Like my father and mother, like your father and…” Mitra bit her lip midway. She had known that
Abhaya had lost her mother as an infant and hoped fervently that the younger girl was not affected by
this slip of her tongue.Much to her relief, Abhaya had not noticed the reference to her mother. She
added in a hurry. “But we both would marry princes of other kingdoms and eventually become the
Queens of those kingdoms.”
“But then, I want to become the Queen of Anagha and not of somewhere else.” Abhaya thought aloud
ignoring the blooming garden on the side of the corridor.
“Then would Prince Vikram give up his throne for you? My brother would not do that for me.” Mitra
tried to reason.
“He would. He surely would if I ask him. He is not like your brothers.” Abhaya retorted. She then
remembered Dharmasena’s repeated warnings not to openly express her dislike for the princes of
Avanthi. She raised her brows and pursed her lips looking at Mitravinda. “I should not have said that?”
Mitravinda chuckled. “You can say all you want as long as we both are alone. Just don’t repeat that in
front of others.”
The girls had walked along the length of the garden that surrounded the courtroom and turned towards
the palace. The courtyard outside the Royal Mansion had a small arena used for martial practice of the
King and the princes. As they entered, the girls heard the clangs of swords clashing.
“Someone’s practicing on sword!” Abhaya exclaimed and darted towards where the sounds greeted her.
Mitravinda unsurely followed her. “It should be my brothers, Vinda and Anuvinda. And I see Prince
Vikram!” They entered the private arena to catch the glimpse of Vikram deal a swift stroke onto Vinda’s
blade. Anuvinda stood by Vikram’s left waiting for an opportune turn and made his move. The latter
sensed the second opponent and ducked, simultaneously pushing Vinda away.
Abhaya saw the lone spectator Veerabahu, the nephew of Senapati Vajrabahu. He got up from the place
he had comfortably seated himself and moved towards the princesses.
“Why are both of them fighting Vikram simultaneously? Isn’t a duel supposed to be between two
opponents?” Mitravinda asked as Abhaya fervently nodded.
“Your Highness, Vikram was enthusiastic to learn about the ‘real battle’ aspects.” Veerabahu explained
eyeing Vikram parry another difficult attack by Anuvinda.“But they both are too good for him. He would
not be able to stand that for long.” The sixteen yearold shrugged and stretched his muscular arm before
all the three settled down to watch the remaining part of the duel.
“That would be unfair to compare so. My brothers have finished their training and have even faced a
battle or two. You both are still learning.” Mitravinda tried to be generous with the guests.
Abhaya had stopped paying attention to the conversation and had fixed her gaze on the fighters. Her
face carried the restless frown as she sensed Vikram tiring from facing two opponents at once. A
cumulative attack by the twin brothers made Vikram falter in his balance and his grip over the blade
loosened. Abhaya closed her eyes in disappointment before she saw her brother’s sword falling to the
“There, that is the end!” Veerabahu sighed as he loosened his girdle to which his own sword was
dangling. Placing the blade by his side, he turned to the girls. “I had told Vikram not to risk a duel with
these princes. Their training is of quite a superior level.”
“May be he got distracted because we entered!” Mitravinda tried to console as she saw Abhaya’s
But the three young men involved in the duel did not lose their focus. Vikram stood still as Vinda’s sword
menacingly pointed at his chin. If he was disappointed by his own performance, it did not appear like he
“Learning how to respond after the opponent disarms you is another important lesson.” Anuvinda
explained holding back an urge to taunt. But his head held high betrayed his glee.
“That was like facing two opponents simultaneously. But we were soft on you.” Vinda said, still pointing
his sword. Vikram sensed the subtle challenge in his eyes, something the three spectators would not
have guessed. “We can call this off and I offer to forget what happened here…” the sentence filled with
feigned magnanimity was interrupted as Vikram held the attacking sword with his bare hand and moved
it out of his way.
The twenty year old heir prince realized the unrelenting spirit of his younger opponent a second too
late. Vikram had ducked and retrieved his sword in a flash. “Not so soon, Your Highness!”
Veerabahu gasped in disbelief at the nimbleness he witnessed. Abhaya clapped and laughed in relief.
The laugh did have a subtle challenge at the twin princes. You cannot take my brother for a ride.
Mitravinda let out a sigh of appreciation. “That was not expected.”
The duel continued. Vikram’s left hand which had held Vinda’s sword began to bleed. He tried to ignore
the pain as his other hand brandished the blade.
“He is injured. Shouldn’t you both stop?” Mitravinda called out.
Vinda and Anuvinda looked at the girls. “The prince of Anagha here sought a real battle experience.
Would you expect an opponent on the battle field to stop when you are injured?” Anuvinda’s tone was
gentle but betrayed a superior air.
“A girl would surely expect so?” Vinda laughed. “Fine, son of Dharmasena. Aren’t you his adopted son?
But yes, you did your best to make him proud. Let us resume.”
Mitravinda frowned. “What was the need to remind him that he is the adopted son of the King of
Veerabahu hid a smile and Abhaya waited impatiently for the duel to restart. The clash was more
intense this time with the opponents getting grazed and wounded at multiple places.
“I don’t feel comfortable about this so called mock duel. Let me call Father.” Mitravinda said before
Abhaya noticed blood dripping from Vikram’s hand as he continued to duel despite his other wounds.
His fatigue began to increase. She realized the odds were against Vikram who was truly doing his best.
The twin princes were taller than him and he faced them alone. She counted the close strokes which
Vikram defended in the spur of the moment.In another instinctive move, he successfully defended
himself from another cumulative attack. At the same time Anuvinda tripped him.
Vikram fell on his face and Vinda retreated a few paces for his next move. A noiseless sigh escaped
Abhaya as she looked at Anuvinda with new found anger. Veerabahu looked up at the unexpected turn.
He had almost settled to admit that Vikram could match up to his older and more experienced
Vinda lunged forward. Anuvinda too rushed at Vikram expecting the latter to roll over and defend
himself. He checked himself looking at the motionless body of Vikram.
He is unconscious!
Then he saw the unexpected fourth player rush into the circle to defend the unconscious Vikram.
“Vinda, No!” But the words were no more than a gasp and by the time Vinda noticed, it was too late for
him to stop himself. His blow with the brute force of his bulkwas taken by Abhaya who had put herself
between him and Vikram. Grabbing Veerabahu’s sword with both her hands,shehad jumped onto the
ground. She was deterred neither by the weight of the blade nor by her insufficient grip on its hilt.
If anything withstood the blow, it was her sheer will with which she held on to the sword in her hands.
Her scream spoke of the pain that erupted in both her wrists at the clash. But her hands held on to the
Vinda dropped his sword in shock and Vikram who came back to his senses instinctively drew Abhaya
closer. “Leave it, leave the sword.” He urged her to give up the grip on the sword and relax her hands.
She buried her face into his chest, both her hands still stiff.
Anuvinda and Veerabahu rushed towards the trio, recovering from their daze. All of them could not help
feeling thankful that she could stop Vinda’s sword from cutting into her.
“Guards, which son of a Suta let the girls inside!” Vinda thundered looking at the doorway. A couple of
guards ran in at the shout.
Anuvinda tried to examine Abhaya’s wrist at which she snatched her hand away. A groan escaped her
lips as the action pained her even more. Her eyes spat fury at both the brothers and she could have
attacked them had it not been for the unbearable pain.
“Now don’t stand there like fools, call the Vaidya to Mother’s chambers.” Anuvinda instructed the
guards and turned to Vikram. The latter sat examining the extent of injury in her wrists not caring for his
wounds. “Let us take her to mother.”
“Is it a fracture?”
“Mahadeva forbid so. I hope not.” Vikram answered an agitated Veerabahu who felt guilty of leaving the
sword within Abhaya’s reach. Vikram turned to Abhaya partly sad and partly relieved that Vinda’s sword
had only landed upon the sword she held. Looking closely at her defiant eyes holding back tears, he
shivered at the thought.
Would she have put herself in the way if she could not find a weapon?
“Father, why do we go to Avanthi so many times?” Abhaya asked Dharmasena as the latter was helped
by an attendant in fastening his armour. She found it hard to sit still as a female attendant struggled to
plait her wavy hair.
Dharmasena looked up at her question. “We go there for many reasons child. We pay them an annual
tax. The King of Avanthi is my friend since our student days. As a Kingdom, Avanthi had supported the
founding of Anagha with starting military and resources. We owe them the goodwill. We still depend on
them for a boost in trade.” He looked at Abhaya knowing that she would not have comprehended the
last sentences fully. Her expressions told him that she had asked out of dislike to visit the neighboring
province and not out of her characteristic curiosity. “Are you still angry with the princes for what
happened two years ago?”
Abhaya shook her head. “I do like the princess though. And I am also sure that Brother Vikram is now
capable of defeating the twin princes. Senapathi keeps praising his nimbleness. He also defeats
Veerabahu in most of the mock duels.”
“I have clearly told him not to engage in any of those ‘mock’ duels. I expect that you shall not provoke
them either.” Dharmasena quickly replied shaking his finger in a stern tone
Abhaya’s eyes betrayed reluctance even as she nodded. Dharmasena shrugged and beckoned her closer.
“Bravery does not mean you clash blades with everyone, unmindful of their strength and your own.
Being truly brave is different from a show of bravery.”
Abhaya looked at him intently, now showing the curiosity which had been surprisingly lacking till then.
He breathed in choosing his words as he led her to start their journey. “You shall understand as you
grow up child. Accepting a defeat with grace when it is right and choosing to retreat at the moment so
as to fight better later are also the aspects of a true warrior.”
“But I always hear that the one who retreats from a battle is a coward.” Abhaya pointed out, immersed
in the conversation as they walked towards the gate where Vikram awaited them.
“I wish I had an example to prove that retreating need not be out of cowardice all the time. It can be out
of tact too.”
Vikram approached them and bowed to the King while his eyes spoke of the informal intimacy he shared
“I am explaining her why it is a bad idea to clash with the princes of Avanthi, even for a mock duel.”
Dharmasena said looking at Vikram meaningfully. The latter nodded with all the genuineness he could.
“What if they challenge?” Abhaya asked. “Should we refuse? They would taunt him then.”
“You can shower your never ending questions upon them. It would be their turn to retreat.” Vikram
teased with a light pat on her head. “Trust me,your chatter can win where the sword might not.” He
added with a chuckle, evicting one from the King too. Abhaya made a face in reply.
“With all the celebrations and worship of Mahakala, they would not have much time to challenge him
for a mock duel. And if you don’t like them much, you stay with Princess Mitravinda.” Dharmasena
Abhaya nodded and turned to climb the sheltered carriage. Vikram hurried over to her side to help her
as Dharmasena mounted on to his personal chariot.
“Where is Jayanthi?” Vikram asked Abhaya in a whisper as he half lifted heron to the high step of the
“Her mother said she was sick to travel. She always misses coming to Avanthi.” Abhaya replied
wondering why her friend was physically so weak. Vikram did not respond and closed the door of the
carriage before mounting onto his horse.
Abhaya felt that the journey to Avanthi was pleasant. So was the reception given to her family at
Avanthi. The Capital city, Ujjayini was preparing for the celebrated Jagaran on the thirteenth night of
the darker half of Magha, also known as Shivaratri.
“This is the temple of Mahakala. Legend goes that Mahadeva appeared here to protect King
Chandrasena from his enemies.” Queen Rajadhi explained as Abhaya and her daughter Mitravinda
walked by her side, with the palace retinue keeping a respectful distance.
“Ripudamana and Dushana. They were the enemies of Chandrasena.” Abhaya added as Mitra smiled.
“How do you know?”
“Father tells me stories everyday. I know about all the Jyotirlingas of Mahadeva.” Abhaya declared,
enjoying the admiration of the mother and daughter.
“Then tell us why we stay awake during Maha Shivarathri.” Rajadhi Devi asked sounding to be charmed.
“Very long ago, the Devas and the Asuras churned the Ocean of milk. They wanted the Amritawhich was
hidden in its bed. But when they started churning, poison called Haalahala emerged!” Abhaya started
the story, her wide eyes and animated hands trying to explain the fatality of the Haalahala.
Mitravinda exchanged a smile with Rajadhi before signing to Abhaya to continue.
“They all prayed to Mahadeva and he drank the whole Haalahala! So we all honour Mahadeva by the
night long Jaagaran.”
“He did not drink the poison.” Mitravinda corrected. “Devi Parvati arrested the flow of poison in his
throat. As we worship him, we also worship the woman who is the half of Mahadeva.”
They reached the temple and the group of priests ushered them close to the sanctum as the crowds
cheered the Queen and the princess. After a short offering, they were seated in a decorative tent
erected for the purpose of Jaagaran. Artists sang and danced, hailing Mahadeva. Amidst loud cheer, The
King of Avanthi arrived along with his twin sons and close associates. Abhaya spotted her Father and
Vikram and smiled as she turned her attention to the worship about to begin.
The first Quarter of the night passed with an elaborate worship to Mahadeva. Then, the artists took over
each troupe taking turns to present their offerings in the form of poetry, ballads and dance. As the
second Quarter proceeded, Abhaya began to tire and doze. An understanding Rajadhi directed her
maids take the guest princess to the palace. Mitravinda, wanting to stretch herself, offered to
accompany Abhaya to the palace and then come back to the temple.
Abhaya despite her drowsiness rejected as one of the guards offered to carry her and chose to walk
back the protected garden path from the temple to the Palace. Accompanied by her guard,Mitravinda
led her to her chambers. Abhaya gave in to sleep and the older princess left for the Jaagaran.
An hour or so later, Abhaya found herself being shaken awake. It took her a couple of moments to
realize where she was before she realized another young woman in the room.
“Princess, wake up. I have something urgent to tell you.” The woman persisted. In the dim light of the
stars falling from the window, Abhaya saw the woman impatiently twisting her long plait before shoving
it behind her.
“Who are you?” Abhaya asked rising to a sitting position. The woman sat on the bed beside her, with a
surprising show of impertinence.
“I am the princess of Vidarbha. You know that my brother is hell bent against your cousin Krishna
Vaasudeva at Mathura. Now they are plotting something all the more sinister.”
“Vidarbha?” Abhaya blurted out with a vague memory of her father mentioning that the Kingdom lay to
the South of Avanthi. “And who is my cousin Krishna Vaasudeva? And why would your brother be
“How can you forget your own cousin!” the princess of Vidarbha hissed. “Wait, who are you? Aren’t you
“Huh... no, I am the princess of Anagha. Mitra is there at the temple of Mahakala.”
“Goddess Gauri!” Abhaya heard the maiden exclaim, though in a whisper. “Who by the name of
Mahadeva are you? What I told you was supposed to be a secret!”
Abhaya observed the princess of Vidarbha as the latter brushed her own hair vigorously. She thought
the latter looked a couple of years older than Mitravinda and apparently a lot bolder.
“If what you’ve told me is a secret, I’ll keep it a secret.” Abhaya spoke wishing to oblige.
“Why didn’t I remember that the princess of Avanthi is a lot older than you? You are just a child!”
“No, Mitra is only four years older than me.” Abhaya pointed out sharply. “She is my friend and I like her
a lot. She considers me a younger sister.” She softened.
“I am Rukmini, the daughter of King Bhishmaka.” The princess of Vidarbha introduced more about
“And Mitra has a cousin, Vaasudeva. Your brother is against him and now is planning something more
sinister.” Abhaya reminded where Rukmini had left her conversation. “If you want, I shall go to the
temple and bring Mitra here.” She offered, with her sleep now completely gone.
“It would be better if you can just tell her what I wanted to tell her. My presence here should not be
noticed by anyone. I want Mitravinda to know about my brother’s plan and do something to save
Krishna, I mean Vaasudeva.”
“Isn’t this wrong? You coming here secretly and going against your brother and…” Abhaya sounded
“No, My brother is wrong in supporting that Demon of a King Jarasandha…” Rukmini started to explain
and halted. “Fine, Princess Abhaya, you are too young. This is a complicated story. But if you were any
older, you would understand that Krishna Vaasudeva is someone worth all my support and yours. But
from where do I start? It is such a long story!”
Abhaya sighed in deep thought. Her brows came together as she debated within herself. She looked up
and finally asked “You said you came in secret. How did you come?”
“I rode on my faithful horse.” Rukmini replied. “And I need to ride back while the crowds are still in the
temple. I thought I saw the princess of Avanthi walk into the palace… I can’t waste time explaining all
that, so you should help me, little one.”
“Abhaya? Who is this? Princess Rukmini, did I hear your voice? Or am I dreaming?”
“Thank all the gods! Princess of Avanthi, I came to tell you that my brother, directed by that son of a
witch, Jarasandha is setting out to Yavana Desha to invite their Lord Kalayavana.” Rukmini halted for
breathe as Mitravinda and Abhaya stared at her. “They want Kalayavana to attack Mathura with his
mercenary army from the west while Jarasandha’s Magadhan Army would attack from the east, the
Yadavas would be crushed between them. You should let your uncle Vasudeva the noble Yadava leader
and his son Krishna know about it and… Goddess Gauri be with them.”
Mitravinda instantaneously reached out to hold Rukmini’s hand which was shaking out of part anger and
part concern. In the dark, she could not see the expression on the latter’s face but Rukmini’s tone was a
sufficient indicator of her anguish.
“Thank you for all the risk you’ve taken, Vaidarbhi. I shall see that Uncle Vasudeva and Govinda know
about it.” Mitravinda assured.
“You still call Krishna as Govinda?” Before Mitravinda could explain why, Rukmini rose to her feet. “I
shall try to sabotage my brother’s trip to Yavanadesaby any means within my reach. But please let
Krishna know about this.”
“Mine is a promise, princess, more to myself than to you.” Mitravinda reiterated. “Had it been a better
occasion, I could have extended a better hospitality…” her words were left in the middle as Rukmini had
“Quite a whirlwind, isn’t she?” Mitravinda commented. “I had come to wake you for the Aarati and…”
“What is happening? I felt I liked her. Yet, I don’t think I like her completely.” Abhaya demanded.
“Everyone feels that about her.” Mitravinda laughed. “This hotheaded princess of Vidarbha loves my
cousin Govinda.” Mitravinda chuckled. “We all love him and he is the one who is capable of winning
“But then her brother seems to hate him, Krishna, Govinda whatever your cousin is called.”
“Yes her brother is of that kind. He makes me feel my brothers are a lot better. They too don’t really like
Govinda. He beats them on the blade like in the very start of a duel.” Mitravinda whispered in a high
“He beats your brothers in a duel?” Abhaya’s eyes widened as she threw the silken blanket off herself ad
“Everytime. I don’t remember any instance where they bettered him.” Mitravinda’s excited praise of
“Where is he?”
“At Mathura. You heard of Mastyadesa? Mathura should be to the North of Matsya… further up.”
Abhaya considered the situation with a renewed interest. As she straightened her hairs in front of a
mirror by the side of a lamp, she thoughtfully asked. “Can I help in anyway?”
“Yes, just don’t tell this to anyone. Keep all this to yourself.”
“But I tell everything to father…” Abhaya decided to hold her words for the moment. She felt drawn
towards Rukmini, yet, she felt a sense of discomfort in her presence.
She could be sixteen or seventeen? How far is Vidarbha from here? How did she ride alone? Who was this
Krishna she loved?
Abhaya saw the flow of travellers inside Anagha. Perched on a wide fort wall of Anagha with Vikram
standing by her side checking on her safety, she turned to him as he too saw the scores of guests
pouring in along with their families, movable belongings, livestock and all which they deemed fit to take
along for their arduous journey towards the west. The guards were kept busy in organizing the entry and
directing them to appropriate guest houses.
“So, these are the Yadavas from Mathura? There are quite a lot of them!”
Vikram nodded as his mind worried about the convenience of the guests. Has father thought of the
requirements that are needed to attend to such a huge number of guests? Dharmasena had been
confident of hosting the Yadavas. Anagha had been a city that thrived on the trade activity between the
merchants of the western shores and those from the rest of India. Guest houses had been built with a
great level of planning and the revenues from trader guests were a crucial source of Anagha’s finances.
Vikram thanked the stars that this time of the year did not see much of trader inflow and the guest
houses were free to accommodate the unforeseen migrants from the North.
“Where are they going?” Abhaya asked.
“Their leader Vasudeva mentioned that they would all move towards Kushasthali, a day’s journey if one
rode the fastest Vaahika breed horse. A group of this size would take at least two or may be three days
to reach there.”
“Their leader is Vasudeva?” Abhaya asked carefully looking at Vikram.
“Yes, I met him this morning along with father…” Vikram nodded
“And his sons, Rama and Krishna?”
Vikram shot a curious glance. “How do you know about his sons?”
Abhaya looked away considering letting him know her secret. “I knew they would all come here from
Mathura. They are fleeing from the supposed attack by Kalayavana and Jarasandha.”
Vikram looked at her, his eyes narrowing and jaw dropping in disbelief “How did you know???”
“Six months before, on Mahashivaratri, I had broken the Jaagaran out of fatigue and slept at
Mitravinda’s chambers. Then Princess Rukmini of Vidarbha came there, she had ridden all the way
secretly. She told Mitravinda about this planned attack. Mitravinda’s mother, Queen Rajadhi is the
Yadava Vasudeva’s sister. So they sent this news to Mathura. When I met Mitravinda last time, she told
me that the Yadavas planned to migrate to Kushasthali.”
“You have quite an exciting time whenever we go to Avanthi!” Vikram commented, still digesting the
fact that Abhaya knew such critical news and had managed to keep it a secret.And you told none?”
“I told father when I came to know of their exodus. He told me that even the King and Queen of Avanthi
wanted him to host the Yadavas. This is not unexpected. Anyways, did you see Krishna?”
Vikram shook his head “I don’t remember meeting anyone by that name. But you, Abhaya shall make a
“You’ll make a great King too!” Abhaya replied with a wide smile. A frown replaced the smile at a sudden
realization. “I can make a good Queen only after learning to fight. And you, my brother, keep giving
excuses not to teach me. And now, I can even hold the hilt of the sword fully. If you don’t teach me, I
shall go and ask Krishna. Mitra told me that he is even better than those mean brothers of hers.”
“And for your information, Krishna is not here. So you still depend on me.” Vikram teased. Abhaya
raised her elbow to nudge back in indignation.
“Fine, I shall start teaching you as soon as we are free after sending our guests back on their path to
Kushasthali. It is a promise.” Vikram placed his right hand on her palm, still significantly smaller than his.
“Now, my little Queen, Father would want you to welcome the Yadava women. Noble Vasudeva’s wife
Devaki and their daughter Subhadra who is I think of your age.”
Abhaya immediately jumped down the wall onto the terrace even as he poised himself to support her in
case the jump was difficult. But she seemed to land well without his help.
“I shall ask Subhadra about her brother.” Abhaya sprinted indoors as Vikram looked at her in proud
By the sunset, the guests were sheltered and the hustle of activity tapered down gradually. Dharmasena
was keen about the convenience of the guests. As Vikram had feared, the number of guests was more
than the guesthouses at Anagha could shelter. There were also other complications. The republican
community of Yadavas had several feudal lords and their comfort could not be neglected. Their overlord
Ugrasena who was referred as a ‘king’ was in his advanced years and the long journey had taken a toll
on his health. His daughter Devaki and son in law Vasudeva expressed grave concerns about that.
Dharmasena, steadfast on his promise to Queen Rajadhi had given up his royal chambers to the Old
Yadava lord where Vasudeva also prepared to stay for the night to take care of his ageing father in law.
Dharmasena was moved with pride when Abhaya volunteered to give her room to Devaki and Subhadra.
She had played with the daughter of the Yadava leader the whole of that afternoon and the latter had
exciting stories to tell her. Abhaya took a great liking to Subhadra who she felt could become a greater
friend than Mitravinda. But then Mitravinda was older than her while Subhadra was roughly of the same
age. Dharmasena in spite of his busy day, had observed how Abhaya made new friends with ease and
smiled to himself.
He entered Vikram’s room to retire for the night. The latter had prepared to lie on the bench beside,
leaving the bed for the father and daughter. Both the men gave into sleep, fatigue catching up with
them. But Abhaya was nowhere near sleeping. She had never seen so many people in the city. She had
never seen so many members of the same family. She thought of Subhadra narrating about her family.
Ugrasena, the grandfather,Devaki his daughter and Vasudeva, the son of late Shoorasena, Subhadra’s
parents who spoke very little but proved to be a pleasant company, Subhadra’s elder brother Balarama
whom everyone called as Rama, her immediate cousin Uddhava and distant cousin Satyaki, and it went
on as Abhaya closed each of her fingers keeping a count. She counted twice over, but the list of family
members did not seem to end. She remembered that she had even forgotten to count Subhadra’s other
brother, Krishna whom everyone referred to as Govinda. Subhadra had mentioned that this brother of
hers had gone to face the Yavana mercenaries alone.
Would he be able to win over them? Would he return to his family? Would he marry that princess
Rukmini? Would he make friends with her and Vikram?
Abhaya found the stories of this family more exciting than those she had heard since childhood. She
tossed in the bed even as Dharmasena slept on. His fatigue was understandable. She looked at Vikram
whose sleep had been broken probably from the hard bench. She was wrong in thinking so as Vikram
had woken up due to a sound that his agile ears had heard.
She saw him spring from the bench in a flash and wait for the sound. Abhaya jumped down from the bed
too when she saw Vikram signing to her to keep quiet, in case they disturb the King. Abhaya noiselessly
made her way to the door with Vikram at the lead. They were right in guessing the movement in the
corridor parallel to the one outside the room.
Both of them halted, spotting Subhadra walking out to the terrace leading to the top of the fortress.
“Why isn’t she asleep? Any inconvenience?”
“Let us go and find out.”
They went to the terrace and saw Balarama staring into the eastern skies. His huge club which suited his
giant bulk lay beside him. He did not move much even when Subhadra went and sat by his side. Abhaya
and Vikram exchanged glances. Vikram gazed at the sky and made out that there were a couple of
ghatikas left for the sun to rise.
“Is there a lacking in our hospitality, Noble Balarama?” Vikram asked softly. “Or you don’t trust the vigil
of our guards.”
“Oh neither!” Balarama waved, turning to look at the approaching figures. “Prince, we’ve succeeded in
breaking your sleep too!”
Abhaya smiled at Subhadra who smiled back, but the moonlight made her anxiety clearly visible.
“I would have offered you my room if you found the one…” Vikram began
“No! There is a limit to the extent we can trouble you, Your Highness. The young lady too has been
inconvenienced.” Balarama smiled at Abhaya.
“No, please don’t feel so. Yes, we could not have a clear estimate of the requirements, given the
situation. Things had to be kept a secret as I understood.” Vikram explained. “Else we would have
Balarama could not help a laugh. “Next occasion you would need a requirement of this kind would be
your sister’s wedding. I think we are evenworse than the groom’s retinue.”
Vikram smile broke into a grin and stopped as he saw Abhaya’s unsmiling expression. She had lately
taken a dislike to the word wedding. He turned to Balarama. “What disturbs you, noble Yadava?”
Balarama shook his head. “We haven’t fled like this from a battle ever. But my trickster of a brother
convinced us with his convoluted theories to migrate to Kushasthali for lasting peace.”
“Don’t say that about him!” Subhadra protested.
“And when the enemy came close, he went alone toface the brunt, leaving me to guard my people. We
both have faced a lot of challenges together, Vikram. I used to feel proud of the inseparable bond that
kept us together. But I was a fool to think so. In the face to real danger, he was always the one to lunge
forward. He was the one to put his life in unimaginable dangers. He did that once to drive away a host of
serpents that infested the lake Kalindi in Vrindavan. The large serpent poisoned the waters which killed
a few of our cows. Govinda, when he came to know of it, jumped into the lake without even warning us.
We thought we had lost him. But he drove the poisonous reptiles away from the marshes.”
Vikram was lost for words. Balarama’s love for his brother was enough to move anyone who cared for
fraternal ties. “Rama, Is it true that your parents sent you brothers to Vrindavan because of your evil
uncle?” He asked remembering the tales he had heard over the day.
“Evil? Paranoid is the word I would give him.” Balarama laughed. “Some people find it convenient to
ignore the death which is one imminent event in everyone’s life. Of such people, some resort to pleasing
Gods with a hope of gaining immortality through their grace. Others resort to violence to keep dangers
at bay. To avoid any retaliation, they resort to more violence. My uncle, Kamsa, the son of Ugrasena
belonged to this kind. He fell for the words of a mischievous soothsayer that the child of Mother Devaki
would cause his death.”
Balarama paused, unsure about narrating what had ensued after the fateful day. His parents had been
imprisoned and their children, his elder brothers had been put to death in their infancy.
“Fortunately, they managed to smuggle you both to Vrindavan?” Vikram prompted helpfully, guessing
bits of the story which was not narrated. Balarama nodded. We were entrusted to a Gopa chieftain who
was loyal to my father. The chieftain Nanda and Mother Yashoda…” Balarama halted again shaking his
head. “Ultimately my brother ended up proving the prophecy right. Uncle Kamsa had given himself to
fear, greed and had committed foolhardy and dastardly acts.”
“Good that Govinda killed him.” Abhaya declared looking intently at her three companions. “Your uncle
was an Adharmi.” She saw Balarama raise his brows. “The one who persecutes the rishis, women,
children and cows is an Adharmi. My father spoke of this many times. Such Adharmis become a burden
to the earth. They must be killed. Father also tells that supporting or tolerating Adharma is even worse.”
“So, Jarasandha is worse than an Adharmi.” Subhadra piped in. “He wants to take revenge on my
brothers because they killed Kamsa. But my brother will kill him too! I know he will.” Subhadra raised
her right hand and the intensity of her tone made Vikram and Balarama look around
“Why do you bother them with our stories, Subhadra? Prince and Princess, you should at least catch
some sleep before it is dawn.” Balarama sighed. “With us occupying the neighboring Kushasthali, I
assure you shall get to see a lot of excitement henceforth.”
Abhaya watched him wave his muscular hand before he clutched at his club. It was larger than the ones
she had seen in her father’s weaponry and apparently heavier. This weapon had never interested her as
much as the sword did. She had thought that the club and the sickle were the weapons of demons while
the sword, the bow and arrow, the trident and the discus were the weapons of gods. She had formed
this opinion based on an ancient temple painting which depicted Goddess Anagheshwari who, her father
referred to as the great mother and the guardian goddess of her city. The eight handed Goddess had
been depicted wielding those weapons while the demon,who lay prostrate at her feet had a club in his
battered hand. Abhaya had even taken a slight dislike for the soldiers of her army who wielded this
primitive weapon. But the sight of Balarama gave her other thoughts. She badly wanted to feel the
weight of the weapon and almost stretched her hand to touch it when Subhadra’s voice brought her
back to the conversation.
“When will Govinda come back to us?” Subhadra asked in a forlorn tone which surprised Abhaya the
most for she found Subhadra as the most cheerful girl the whole day.
“…After he outwits those foolish monsters from Yavanadesha.” Balarama replied.
“Mother Devaki says he is a God and can overcome any monster.” Subhadra protested.
“Good for her. Let her remain in that illusion.” Balarama retorted. He turned to Vikram with a visile
effort to smile. “It is an age old habit of mankind to wait for a deliverer from the heavens to save them
while they do nothing. Ironically the one who rises above those impotent prayers and braces himself to
face the perils is burdened with this status of Godhood. Same happened with my little brother. My
people are never tired of thrusting more and more burden on his shoulders and he never shies away.
But, I know the price he had to pay.” He shook his head apologetically for the long speech and drew
Subhadra on to his lap. “I have seen him come out unscathed from impossible dangers, little sister. He
shall come back.”
“Yes, he shall come back!” Abhaya spoke suddenly as the two young men turned to her in surprise.
“He SHALL come back.” Abhaya reemphasized. “I heard about him from Princess Mitravinda and
Princess Rukmini! I know all about him!”
Balarama laughed aloud and Vikram could not help smiling as he patted Abhaya.
“Young Princess! We all make this mistake of thinking that we know him. And he has this uncomfortable
trait of proving us all wrong.”
“But, for now, do hope that she is right. I heard that Mahadeva listens to children who pray ardently.”
Vikram tried to see the brighter side though he knew the practical difficulty of single handedly facing an
army of foreign fighters who knew no rules. When he saw Abhaya nodding vigorously, he felt drawn
towards the staunch faith that children could keep.
Balarama nodded gratefully. The bell near the fort wall was rung announcing the last ghatika before
sunrise. He rose slowly. “My prince, I, with my cousins shall leave today to Kushasthali and setup the
temporary camp. My parents and the rest shall follow us after two days.”
Vikram nodded in reply and led the rest inside. “Trust us to take care of the old and the women. Take
“And count on us to return the favour in future. We can’t forget your hospitality, Vikram.”
“Do you miss your new friend so badly?” Dharmasena asked as he saw Abhaya lost in thought, having
stopped her meal in the middle.
Abhaya looked up and nodded. “It was so good to play with her. And worse, I forgot to give her the gift I
wanted to give.” She said reluctantly taking another mouthful of the delicacy the taste of which failed to
“We can always send her. And some of the Yadava elders are still in the city. We can send it with them.”
“Truly exciting couple of days we’ve had.” Dharmasena commented after a while of silence, finishing his
“And they promise some more excitement with prospective trade relationships?” Vikram commented
remembering a hint given by Vasudeva as he took leave in the morning.
“Yes, they talk about improving the ports and promote sea trade with a new vigour. We shall see a lot of
activity once the Yadavas get to settle and start their new life.” Dharmasena nodded.
The conversation continued for a while and Abhaya’s absence of curiosity was conspicuous. Dharmasena
patted her gently to draw her into a conversation.”
“Was there any news of Krishna and those Yavana monsters?” Abhaya asked remembering Subhadra’s
longing for her brother.
Dharmasena shook his head. “That was suicidal of the lad. I just hope he turns out with strong wits and
escapes them. His family had immense trust in him.”
“No, Govinda is strong enough to fight and defeat them all. Mitra and Subhadra told me so.”
“Princess Mitra.” Dharmasena corrected. “And we shall call him Vaasudeva, the son of Vasudeva.
Govinda is an affectionate name that his immediate family calls him with We should not take the
informal liberty. Abhaya shrugged giving in though the lack of innocent protests surprised her father.
“I shall start teaching you to wield the sword today.” Vikram declared. The change was visible as Abhaya
in reply, lifted the bowl and drank the contents at one go. Her excitement was short lived again. In the
first lesson, she found it hard to grip the blade to defend Vikram’s strokes.
“Try holding the hilt with both hands.” Vikram suggested.
“But you easily wield it with one hand.”
“After a good deal of lessons and practice, little sister. I too had found it hard on my first day.”
It was really hard for her to keep her grip and Vikram encouraged her to deal the attacking blow while
he defended. Her short height was of a disadvantage. But then he remembered that he too had started
his training at her age and height. Senapathi Vajrabahu had patiently encouraged his spirit. Abhayadid
show a great promise, Vikram thought as she synchronized her breath without being told to.He
remembered Vajrabahu laying a special emphasis on this aspect so that one does not fall short of breath
at the moment where the blades clash. After an hour of practice, Abhaya collapsed to the ground.
Instincts prodded Vikram to lift her off the ground and tend to her fatigue. Then he remembered how
Vajrabahu had prodded him to lift himself up on the first day of his training. But she was a girl, how
could he deal with the same sternness. Vikram then decided that the training was about the making of a
fighter and she should learn to push her levels of comfort.
“Enough for today.” Vikram declared extending his hand to her as she still lay panting. He drew it back
the moment Abhaya extended hers to hold it. “Try getting up, by yourself. You can do it. You are strong
She nodded and hauled herself onto her feet not caring for the pain that appeared at various places in
her arms. Unsteadily, she made her way to the stone bench at the corner of the training arena. Vikram
shed the teacher’s sternness and rushed to her with water. He then chided himself in his mind.
“Tomorrow’s training would be harder, Abhaya, and more painful. But you need to face it. And I know
you can.” Abhaya’s tired but firm smile told him she could.
The training went on for two more days after which Vikram felt that he was pushing her limits too much.
The fourth day, he took Vajrabahu’s advice to give a break to the long sword and introduced her to
throwing short knives at stationary targets.
“Out of eight, four hit the target and two missed it by so much.” Abhaya showed the gap between her
fingers as she narrated the day to Dharmasena during the evening meal. “Two fell down before the
target. Then I learnt to hold a shield. Tomorrow, we shall return to sword practicing.”
“Yes, I have been watching you train.” Dharmasena nodded. “Don’t let the blade fall tomorrow.” He
turned to Vikram and spoke in a low tone. “You tend to soften on her too frequently. You must goad her
more.” Vikram admitted it was hard to be stern with her as he repeatedly got the picture of what
happened at Avanthi two and a half years before when she had stood in the way of Vinda’s blade.
“That was the spirit of desperation. And as a teacher you should get her used to tougher things.”
Vikram agreed picturing the new relationship of a teacher and a student. He wondered about his own
training days and thought about the possibilities of his facing a battle. But the eventless days that
surrounded him at Anagha did not show much of a promise.
Abhaya retired to bed early. She missed Jayanthi, her playmate and the daughter of her father’s
charioteer, who had gone to Matsyadesha to be with an ailing elder. She had lots to tell Jayanthi of what
happened in the latter’s absence, about the arrival of the Yadavas, about Subhadra, about her training
and more. Her last thoughts of the night again went to Krishna or Vaasudeva as her father had
addressed him;the brother of Subhadra, the one who had gone alone to face his enemies. Was he a god
as his mother felt or was he the best fighter as Mitra had opined? She knew that this Vaasudeva would
have been a loving brother to Subhadra like Vikram was to her, unlike the brothers of Mitravinda. She
wanted to see him fight and as she drifted out of consciousness, she saw the mock duel of her dreams
where Vinda’s blade was to fall to ground because of the Vaasudeva whom Princess Rukmini loved.
Abhaya could not see his face in the illusory scenes woven by her semiconscious thoughts. Exhilarated of
his victory over Vinda, she tried to approach him in the dream. But he kept going away farther. She
could see Mitravinda and Rukmini run past her. She was about to set her foot into the arena when two
strong hands lifted her off the ground and she felt herself carried away. She kicked hard and try to shout
out but her voice failed her. She kicked hard at her captor with all her strength as she heard Vikram’s
encouraging voice “You can do it. Yes, it is hard, but you have to. I know you can. Abhaya, Abhaya.”
The next moment Abhaya found herself shaken awake. The word she had been struggling to cry out in
her dream came out as she found her voice returning
“Abhaya, wake up!” Vikram’s agitated and concerned eyes stared into hers as he drew her to a sitting
“Brother!” Abhaya panted as her heart paced fast. She saw guards run along the corridors that were
brightly lit by many lamps. “What happened?”
Vikram went to her closet and hastily pulled out the thick tunic which she wore for the sword practice
and draped it around her. “Get ready soon. Father wants us to leave.”
“To where?Avanthi?” She asked even as one of the palace maids approached her hurriedly to groom her
for a travel. Vikram rushed out signaling that he would be back.
Within minutes, Dharmasena entered the room. Abhaya saw him wear the battle armour which he wore
in rare occasions while leading counter raid attacks on robber lairs. His hairs looked unkempt like he had
just risen from bed. He carried his helmet and sword in his hands.
“Father.” She exclaimed. “What is happening?”
“The Yavanas, they’ve attacked us!”
“Yavanas?” Abhaya cried in disbelief. As something struck her, she ran to a closet and took out the
bundle of shortknives she had selected from the weaponry room the previous day. “Let us fight them.”
“I am there to do that!” Dharmasena spoke in a tone unknown to her. “You, Vikram and Veerabahu
leave this place.”
She stared at him neither able to agree nor protest. What he said was not acceptable to her. But he was
in a form which did not let her enjoy the urge to debate or protest. His eyes carried a mixture of
urgency, concern and defiance which was unusual to her.
“Child, don’t trouble the boys. You shall be safe. I shall send for you all soon. But now you have to
For the first time in her memory, Abhaya found herself speechless and flabbergasted. “I don’t want to
leave you father.”
“Father!” Vikram rushed in dressed in armor himself closely followed by Veerabahu also dressed for a
battle and carrying a collection of spears. “We have alerted the eastern guard and have also sent a
messenger towards Avanthi.”
“Good. Now make haste and leave.” Dharmasena ordered lifting Abhaya off the couch. Leading them
along the corridor, he showed them a door which in Abhaya’s memory had never opened. “A chariot
awaits you outside. I have seen that the best of our horses are yoked to it. Speed away towards
Southwest to the Naga settlement and wait for my message. Just don’t do anything foolish.”
Dharmasena specifically looked at Abhaya though he meant it to the young men.
Abhaya looked at the men around her. She had not faced a situation which made her feel helpless like
now. She wanted to protest badly. But the concern that showed on everyone’s faces told her not to. As
Vikram pulled her onto the chariot, she looked back at her father. The lamp at the doorway showed his
eyes softening. As she thought she saw sadness in them, her father’s lips broke into a defiant smile. She
forced herself to smile back. Veerabahu loaded the chariot with the weaponry he carried before getting
in. Vikram cracked the whip and the fortress of her city got farther and smaller with the chariot gaining
speed. Abhaya held on to the flag post as the horses took abrupt turns in the less travelled path towards
the woods outside the city. At a distance, towards north, she could see lamps moving.
“The Yavana bastards!” Veerabahu pointed to them.
Vikram’s hand that held the whip hit against the flag post showing his frustration. “Cowards run away
from battle this way! And to think that Father forced us to flee!!”
Veerabahu grunted in displeasure. “We should have never let those Yadavas enter our city. The shrewd
Queen of Avanthi called your father as her brother and lo! He fell into this trap of giving the Yadavas
refuge at her request. Couldn’t she get her husband and sons to protect her maternal relatives? Why did
we have to do it for her?”
“Because father supports Dharma!” Abhaya broke her long silence. “We were right in helping
Subhadra’s people. It is those Yavanas who are wrong!”
“My princess, do you think the Yavanas care for right or wrong? They follow no rules. They butcher their
opponents in the most brutal manner and even carry away the women and…” He stopped as Vikram’s
hand nudged him.
“My prince, you should now be happy for at last you got to prove that your birth tribe gets to protect
the King’s daughter. Nobody shall dare to point out at your birth when you ascend the throne.”
Vikram cracked the whip again to set the horses into a full gallop and sharply looked at Veerabahu. The
latter had openly been derisive about Vikram’s Naga origins. Though Vikram had learnt to throw a deaf
ear to most of those taunts, he felt his patience at its end at the moment.
“Yes, Nobody shall dare to point out at my brother’s anything when he ascends the throne. He is fit to
be the King!” Abhaya responded in a calm tone, much unlike her usual protests. Both Vikram and
Veerabahu noticed the emphasis she laid on select words showing that she meant to put down anyone
who would challenge Vikram. Veerabahu shrugged and offered to take the reins of the chariot for a
“My Kingship is not the thing to worry about at the moment. It is the safety of…. Why are the horses
slowing down so often?” Vikram looked around to spot something unusual that might have made the
steeds slow down.
“It could be the wild animals.” Veerabahu replied eyeing the surroundings and cracking the whip again.
“Once we cross this woody jungle and reach those hillocks, we can see the lake. The Naga village is on
the other side.”
One of the horses neighed out in sudden pain before setting into an unsteady gallop that threw the ones
on the chariot off their balance. Abhaya lost the grip on the flag post and was caught by Vikram before
she was thrown off.
“What in the name of Mahakala made it gallop so?” Veerabahu cried, pulling the reins. The thick woods
shielded them from the moonlight in spite of the night being a full moon. Three of them steadied
themselves straining their eyes to look at the horse.
“It is pierced!” Abhaya shrieked looking at Veerabahu.
“We are attacked! It is an arrow shot from a short distance! The enemy should be lurking around.”
Vikram hastily looking back on the trail they had taken. A shout from Veerabahu made him turn around.
“An arrow hit my shoulder!” Veerabahu clutched at his left shoulder. Vikram simultaneously grabbed at
the reins and pushed Abhaya to the floor of the chariot.
“Who is this now?” Abhaya demanded shaking Vikram’s hand off her head.
“Stay Down!!!” Vikram hissed as she attempted to stand again. Another arrow whizzed past missing
Vikram’s neck by a few inches.
“We might be more shielded there!” Veerabahu shouted pointing at a pass between two hillocks
towards the North and snatched the reins to guide the steeds.
“How are you sure these attackers are not there?” Vikram demanded looking all around for any sign of
the attackers. “I feel we are greatly outnumbered. And this arrow…” he pointed to the sharp metallic tip
of the arrow which Veerabahu had pulled out of his shoulder. “… cannot belong to any tribal hunter.
These are trained warriors.”
“Trained? Yes of course, trained to shoot at unknowing targets and man enough to hide while injuring
others. You call such people as hunters and nothing else!” Veerabahu shouted loud enough hoping to
provoke the attackers to reveal themselves. In reply, another arrow came dangerously low and hit the
flagpost where Abhaya had knelt. Veerabahu hurriedly pulled her to the other side. “Now, Vikram, if you
hesitate, you’ll get her and us killed! Goad these horses to move!”
Vikram cracked the whip hoping that Veerabahu’s guess is true and they would be much safer if they
crossed the pass. He hoped to find a hiding place from where they could shield the princess and plan
their next move.
Before the horses could gather any speed, a couple of sharp arrows hit the second horse which bolted
unsteadily in pain. Vikram pulled harder at the rein to get both the horses into a course. At the moment
Veerabahu clutched at his bleeding shoulder leaving Abhaya’s arm. The horses set into a gallop and
Abhaya found herself thrown off the chariot leaving an unnerved Veerabahu to alert Vikram again.
“Couldn’t you save your clumsy grip for another day?” Vikram cried as he frantically pulled at the reins
again. But misfortune chose to stick to him and the horses resisted the reins even with Veerabahu
helping him. “We should have taken my horses instead of Fathers’! These are worse than wild beasts!
Abhaya!” Vikram cursed his luck pulling at the reins with all the permitted force he could exert to stop
the horses. But the steeds galloped through the pass before slowing down. Vikram grabbed his sword
and jumped out of the chariot before it even came to a full halt. Veerabahu followed him taking up his
own blade. The empty chariot moved ahead though at a much reduced pace, but neither of the young
men bothered about it as they ran back through the pass to where Abhaya had fallen off.
The duo had to come to a halt as they found themselves surrounded by the enemy in the dark, a group
of brutal looking men in metallic armors, armed with blades much longer than their own.
“Yavanas!! They’ve followed us till here?!”
“Abhaya! Where is she?”
“These demons are sure to harm her!”
“Keep your horrendous thoughts to yourself!! I am not returning without her!” Vikram hissed back as he
worked himself into a rage, undeterred by the enemy that outnumbered the duo.
“Stop bragging and tell me how you plan to overcome these red haired beasts!” Veerabahu challenged
as he kept pace, now ignoring his wounded shoulder completely.
“They are five against two of us. They come closer to each other as we approach. We should get close
enough and then get away from each other when they least expect it and take advantage of their
“Done, move towards the sand. It comes as useful as a weapon. At times, even more.” Veerabahu
suggested, grunting at a Yavana attacker hoping to provoke him into isolated action.
“Duck as the first attacker deals his blow and get at the unprepared second.” Vikram’s mind worked fast
as they closed in the gap.
Veerabahu exchanged a quick glance with him as they halted decisively and sprinted towards his right,
away from Vikram. He had to grudgingly admit that Vikram’s strategy worked. The Yavana group split up
and two of them pursued him leaving Vikram to face the remaining three. “Fair enough, given my
wounded shoulder.” Veerabahu thought as he led his pursuers to a sandy corner of the pass.
Vikram for his part whirled his sword to keep the attackers at a distance and maneuvered till the middle
of the pass. In the process he tripped one of the Yavanas and wounded another, earning a stab at his
side in return. He held on to his sword, though overcome with pain and ducked to save himself from the
immediate attack. Regaining his balance along with a large pebble he could manage to find on the
ground, he hurled the rock at the farthest of the three while dealing an0other calculated blow upon his
immediate opponent. This is like facing a real enemy in a battle. Vikram’s thoughts went back to his duel
with the twin princes of Avanthi, around there years ago. They were right, they had been soft on him.
But he ought with a relentless will as one thought kept him going. “Abhaya”
Abhaya had momentarily lost consciousness as the force of the bolting horses had thrown her off the
chariot. Before she hit the ground, she saw Vikram frantically trying to stop the horses even as the
chariot turned around the pass. She saw a couple of more arrows miss the chariot and thanked their
luck. The hard ground unnerved her as she blacked out. She did not know how long she was in the
swoon. It could not have been very long as she found herself untouched when she opened them again.
She sensed a tall shadow approaching her. Still reeling under the effect of the fall, she felt for the knife
tucked at the side of her tunic. She realized the short knife would be of no use against the long blade
that the menacing figure wielded. It was hard to say whether it was due to her instinct or a subconscious
memory of a lively duel she had witnessed; she took a fistful of the sand and waited for something told
her that the approaching monster would not kill her in the instant. As the shadow told her how close the
Yavana attacker was behind her, she rolled over to face him. An unknown fear built up as she saw him
from the feet up to forehead. The glee on his face was visible in the moonlight and she felt her fear
dissolve to be replaced by anger. The red hairs of his beard only made him look like a monkey that
walked on two feet, she thought.
Proving her guess right, the Yavana did not use his blade on her. He instead pulled her up roughly and
lifted her off the ground by her shoulder. Fortunately for her, the free hand held the sand. Struggling at
the pain at the shoulder, she cried out but successfully managed to take aim and throw the sand onto
his face. The Yavana dropped her to the ground. She regained her balance before he could recover and
took out her knife. She saw that the foreign invader’s attire covered him only till his knees. Not caring as
he swore vengefully, she drove the knife into his thigh just above his left knee. The knife penetrated
barely an inch into the Yavana’s leg before he shoved her away to pull it out. Losing her only weapon
and her balance, Abhaya hit her head against a rock. The impact was not fatal, but enough to render her
limbs weak. While being conscious, she felt her hands and legs lose sensation like they did on the first
day of her sword training. She frantically looked for Vikram to return and wondered what took the boys
so long. She turned to the Yavana who she had angered enough to turn more violent.
“When the Queen Vispala lost her leg in the battle, she prayed to the Ashwini twins who granted her, an
iron leg after which she overcame her enemies. But I have my both legs and hands which lay without any
strength. Who can I pray for strength? Who can protect me from death? Who protected Markandeya
from the god of death himself?”
“Mahadeva!” She called out as the Yavana towered over her and held her neck with his one hand. She
held his hand with both of hers and dug her claws into his skin using every bit of strength she could
muster. The brute grunted and spoke something in a language she could not understand. It looked like
he asked her to answer. She knew that she would not have answered even if she had understood.
“Go away!” She kicked though with a much subdued force. But his grip around her neck only tightened.
She could understand the increasing level of threat in his tone. Two words made her straighten up.
“You demons shall never find Krishna Vaasudeva! And Mahadeva shall kill you all for invading our
It was clear that the Yavana too did not understand what she spoke. He left her neck and lifted her off
the ground over his shoulder. She kicked in vain but his muscular hand had wrapped both her thighs
rendering them too weak to resist.
“My words will come true! Mahadeva will kill you. To demons like you, he is the Rudra with the third eye
which spits fire!! He is the one who wields the Trident which can pierce into your chest or behead you!!
You’ll be burnt alive or, cut into pieces!!”
The Yavana was visibly annoyed with her blabbering which he could not understand but could make out
that she was swearing on her Gods and cursing him. When he could not take it anymore, he dropped her
to the ground in an attempt to threaten her into silence. Abhaya took the opportunity to back away and
escape from his grip. He stepped ahead to catch her but she slipped again out of his reach.
Before either of them could make their next move, Abhaya saw a trident which stood in between them.
Her eyes widened as she saw the ash smeared hand that held the weapon of Mahadeva. She saw the
rest of him who came in between her and the Yavana. His matted hair loosely spread around his
shoulders. His ash smeared upper body was bare. A rough jute antariya covered the length between his
waist till his knees She could not see his face as he was turned to face the Yavana who had
momentarily backed away, unsheathing his long sword.
The urge to see his face overcame her as she stepped forward only to be gently pushed back. The next
moment the Yavana threw himself upon him and both were locked in a duel. The weapons clanged in
quick succession as her protector skillfully lured the Yavana away from her. She watched the encounter,
fascinated despite her fatigue.
“Why doesn’t he simply burn the demon by opening his third eye?”
The moon who had reached the western skies now shone brightly. Abhaya sighed with satisfaction as
she saw the Yavana being dazed as his opponent dealt accurate blows in a lightning succession.
“After all, he is the Great God!”
The very moment, he had the Yavana pinned against a boulder and turned towards her. In the
moonlight she saw his face which was not covered with ash like the rest of his body, save his forehead.
His eyes flashed a spark when they met hers. Like a child about to succeed in his prank;
His lips curved into a smile. Like a God about to grant a boon.
She looked at him feeling all her fatigue disappear. He continued to hold his bulkier opponent against
the boulder and looked up at the moon. She followed his gaze.
“Isn’t the moon supposed to be on the Lord’s head?”
She blinked at the full moon and lowered her eyes to see the Yavana drop down lifeless. But her focus
had long before shifted away from the foreigner. She ran toward her rescuer as she remembered many
“There are more of them! These monsters shot arrows at my brother and Veerabahu when…..” her
words halted as he suddenly raised his hand bringing a finger to his lips. In the calm, the clangs were
heard from the other side of the hill.
“Lord, it should be my brother and Veerabahu! Those foreigners have attacked them!” Abhaya
exclaimed in a loud whisper. She grabbed at his hand to lead him towards where she felt
“Fear not.” He spoke for the first time before hurrying ahead of her as she followed close behind.
Vikram and Veerabahu had meanwhile managed to kill one of the Yavana assaulters with some hard
worked maneuvering and had fatally wounded another. They themselves bled at various places. The
other three masked men charged at them. Vikram saw Veerabahu clutch his side at a fresh wound and
put himself in their way. His strength did not match his intended move and his first opponent threw him
to the ground with minimum effort. Vikram rolled around to escape the blade and stopped his opponent
just in time to save his neck from being slashed.
The remaining Yavanas advanced towards them. Mindful of his inability to handle all the three, Vikram
steeled his mind to receive the blow. In the last moments he wanted to be sure of one thing, Abhaya’s
These were not the words he wanted to hear when surrounded by three men who meant no good. In
desperation he hauled himself with a superhuman effort, driving his sword into the Yavana’s chest. He
knew that his failing strength could not fight the two remaining attackers and turned in despair.
“Why didn’t you run princess...?” He stopped speaking as he saw another man accompanying Abhaya.
Vikram recognized him as an Aghori and felt a surge of repulsion as Abhaya led him by hand. The aghori
sprang to land in between Vikram and the two remaining Yavanas. Vikram felt another presence
towards his right and realized with a shock, the Yavana whom he had thought as dead raise again to stab
him. Before the foreigner’s blade could dig into him, his bulky body shook and fell. Veerabahu stood
behind, triumph visible on his face upon the kill.
“No, we are even! You put yourself between me and them when I was wounded and I killed one for
you!” Veerabahu threw up his brows in a subtle challenge.
They turned to look at the Aghori disarming one of the two Yavanas before defending the other’s blow.
The second man was not prepared for the quick defense and faltered in his grip. The moment was
enough to have the trident pierce his neck. The Aghori turned to face the lone Yavana who had retrieved
his blade. Vikram and Veerabahu, as much as they wanted to help their benefactor could not rise to help
him. Abhaya ran into Vikram’s arms.
“You are safe. No, you are wounded!!” Vikram parted her hair off her neck to reveal bruises and pointed
to the wounds on her arms. Abhaya became conscious of those only then. But she was far too excited to
feel the pain.
“Brother! He saved me!”
“Look at that!” Veerabahu exclaimed at what he thought as a master stroke by the aghori. Vikram and
Abhaya stared as the aghori dived forward closely escaping a deadly blow and strike back in a flash
piercing the Yavana’s belly. Vikram instinctively turned Abhaya towards himself and held her close to
prevent her from seeing blood spraying. The foreigner bellowed as he collapsed.
“I am not afraid. You are needlessly holding me!” Abhaya shouted to Vikram. But Vikram was engrossed
in watching the aghori’s moves.
Watching the man struggle in pain, the aghori withdrew the weapon and dealt another deft blow on the
neck to relieve him off the pain for good.
Vikram let go of Abhaya as he was sure about the end of this skirmish. Veerabahu pulled himself onto
his feet holding on to his side which bled profusely. Vikram too became conscious of the multiple
wounds on his arms, thighs and chest while he attempted to stand, supported by Abhaya. The aghori
threw the trident away and approached the three of them.
“Who are you, Aghori?” Vikram asked in a mixture of awe and gratitude, his initial repulsion wearing
“He is not aghori, He is Mahadeva himself, the God of Gods!” Abhaya exclaimed tugging at Vikram.
The aghori shook his head with a smile and turned to Vikram. “Yesterday, someone called me a
Ranachor. Today someone else calls me Mahadeva. With the recognition of my identity changing at this
rate, how does my name matter?”
“Philosophy! We just needed that” Veerabahu retorted. “But, a million thanks to you for saving us and
the Princess though. No, wait. Someone actually called you a Ranachor?” He added in disbelief as he
remembered the way the aghori had fought off the Yavanas.
The aghori smiled, his eyebrows thrown high as if the title Ranachor was as glorious as Mahadeva was.
“Your wounds need to be treated.”
“No, thanks! We must get used to the wounds, being Kshatriyas.” Veerabahu replied imagining the
possible primitive remediation the aghori might suggest.
“A true Kshatriya should know to heal faster too! Only then can he give his best to the raging war against
Adharma. May I ask what are two Kshatriya youth doing in the jungle with a child as young as this in the
middle of night?”
Vikram did not speak, struck by the aghori’s impeccable Aryan tongue.
Vikram is a Naga. Veerabahu almost blurted out but held his tongue in time. Vikram’s Naga origins were
not as hateful as his way of excelling Veerabahu’s when they dueled under the close guidance of
Vajrabahu, his own uncle.
“We are from Anagha, Mahatma.” Vikram gave a modest introduction, unsure about how much to
“My father, Dharmasena is the King of Anagha.” Abhaya spoke, excited and charmed by the smile on the
face of Aghori.
“Princess?” The Aghori bowed in acknowledgement.
“Abhaya! That is my name. He is my brother Vikram and he is our commander’s nephew, Veerabahu.
But, are you not Mahadeva?”
“Who is Mahadeva?” the Aghori asked with an indulgent smile.
“He is the god who consumed Halahalato save the world and left the Amrita for others.” Abhaya replied
with half indignation surprised at the elementary nature of the question.
“And the one who saved lives is no less.” Vikram interrupted looking at the aghori.
“What about the one who took lives?” the aghori pointed at the dead bodies. “You haven’t yet told me
what brings you to the jungle.”
“What do we say? Recluses like you are insulated well from the political vortexes raging in the mainland
of Aryavarta. The center of this particular vortex is the one called Krishna Vaasudeva. Mahakala knows
what all his exploits are and why he is chased by powerful emperors and foreign assassins. But all we
know is that my Noble King gave refuge to some Yadavas fleeing to Saurashtra, a week before. As a
result the Yavanas are ravaging our fort and we are fleeing to Mahakala knows where.” Veerabahu took
a long breath as he finished.
“We had the duty of saving the princess. We were not able to fight by father’s side.” Vikram spoke in a
half ashamed tone.
“Let us head towards Anagha.” The Aghori spoke firmly heading towards the east.
“But wait? We are supposed to await the King’s word.” Veerabahu protested. “Do not ask me where to
wait though. Vikram is the one in charge”
“If the root cause of all your troubles stood in front of you, would you say the same thing, my friend?”
Aghori questioned intently looking at Veerabahu in the eye.
“What do you mean?”
“If the Yavana mercenaries are breaking into your fort, it is because of me.” The aghori undid his hairs
dropping an artificial wig of the thick unkempt locks, to uncover the lustrous black curls that were his
true hair. As Vikram and Veerabahu stared at him in a shock, he smiled and spoke.
“I am Krishna Vaasudeva. Krishna Vaasudeva of the Shoora Yadava family, the center of your vortex.”