"Father, Father! I want to learn how to wield a sword!" It was the five year old princess Abhaya, almost tugging at King Dharmasena who was engrossed in watching what he would call, a wonderful encounter of blades by two 12 year olds.
He gently quietened his daughter while not taking his eyes off the duel. The clangs of the blades continued for a while before one fell to the ground. It belonged to Veerabahu who looked tragically disappointed at the defeat. The opponent sheathed his sword trying to hide a triumphant smile. He was hailed by the onlookers as he gracefully walked up to his teacher and bowed.
Vajrabahu, raised his pupil, pride filling up his eyes despite his best efforts. "You seemed to have remembered your lessons well, Vikram. You've surely made His Majesty proud."
Dharmasena came forward ruffled Vikram's hair. Giving the boy, an affectionate pat, he said, "This boy has never disappointed me. But this shows how good you are at training the youngsters, Vajra Bahu. Your nephew was not bad either. Veerabahu, nothing tragic about your defeat, Son. Just those weak moments where you lost hold on your sword. Learn and guard against those."
Abhaya who had already leapt from her father's lap shouted in childish joy. "Vikram won! Vikram won! Now he will teach me how to wield a sword! Father, Commander Vajrabahu, tell Vikram to teach me."
Vajrabahu took the princess into his arms. "As your Highness Commands. Vikram, you can't refuse the princess. Can you?"
"But sir, isn't she too young? And what is the necessity of the princess to wield a sword when I am alive?" Vikram protested.
"Father, Vikram simply does not want to teach me. If he does that, I shall win over Avanthi, Kuru, Koshala, Kaling and the South. I shall lead the armies myself and make our Kingdom bigger. The biggest" The princess spread out her arms as wide as she could to indicate how big.
Dharmasena and Vajrabahu broke into proud laughter listening to her words.
"Woudn't I like to see our Highness seated n the highest of the thrones? But as a proud bride of a Lion that would rule over the Aryavarta. None of us can even bear the thought of you facing a battle. It would be a shame on our lives if even a drop of your blood spills." Vajrabahu affectionately tried to reason while being amused.
"Commander, Nothing will happen to me at all. You know, I shall be the bride of Narayana himself. I shall rule over the three worlds."
Dharmasena, still amused, intervened taking Abhaya back to his arms. "Vajrabahu, If you encourage her to talk like this, there won't be any end. She would next be demanding a temple built for herself. " Turning to his charioteer, he remarked. " This is your wife's doing Sudatta, The woman was continuously praising Abhaya that She is Goddess Lakshmi herself and this child has taken it all in."
The charioteer bowed low and spoke in a courteous but indulging voice. "Why do you blame my wife your Majesty? Ask anyone in this whole province of Anagha if they would contend this. The princess is surely Lakshmi herself."
"Lakshmi holds a lotus. Not sword" Vikram piped in.
Abhaya seemed disappointed all of a sudden. She told in a sulking manner. "I am not Lakshmi then. I want sword. Father, I want to learn sword. I am not Lakshmi."
Dharmasena mocked a sigh of relief. "Vikram, that was clever of you. At least this girl got herself rid of the fantasy. And child Abhaya, Vikram would teach you swordplay when you are 10 years old. You are still five now. "
No one noticed the pang of envy in the eyes of Veerabahu who was silent all the time. No one except Vikram. He was not rejecting the princess' request for no reason. The hatred he felt from the nephew of the commander made him feel uneasy.
"Commander," The King turned to Vajrabahu. "How long has it been since we tried our blades on each other? Don't you remember the fun duels we've had during our pupil days at Avanti?"
"Who used to win?" Vikram asked enthusiastically.
"Son, do you ever dream I could any day your teacher?" King replied.
"Your sword doe not have a nemesis, Lord. But your humility beats it. Vikram, Nobody on this earth can face our King when he is armed with his sword." Vajrabahu spoke with great admiration, remembering the past.
"Vajrabahu, why don't we try a duel now? Surely the youngsters would find something to learn while we reliven our younger days."
A thrilled Vikram watched yet another encounter of swords, holding the princess in his lap.
"A tribal wretch after all!" murmured Veerabahu standing some distance away. He was not sure if he was inaudible as he saw Abhaya turning towards him and making a face.