"Salutations, Father. Bless me so that I can be a worthy daughter to your glorious self."
Dharmasena tenderly raised his daughter. "May the Lord Narayana bless you with glory that makes you immortal. Child Abhaya, I am not able to fathom how fast these 10 springs have passed since you were born. I remember the moment of joy when I first held you as an infant. Tell me my child, what do you want from me today?"
Abhaya spoke in high spirits, " I ask you of what you promised me already father, I want your sword. Remember, Brother Vikram shall start teaching me swordplay from today. I want to start it with one of your older swords. Hope Vikram would be here on time."
Laughing aloud, Dharmasena remarked, " Of course, he knows how excited you are. In fact, you've mentioned it to him in front of me almost everyday since a month. But Abhaya, We have all come for a pleasure visit in these woods to celebrate your birthday. Are you sure you want to..."
"Can I come in my King?" A voice was heard from the entrance of the tent where Dharmasena and Abhaya stood. The ten year old princess eyes sparkled with expectation.
"Welcome Vikram. May you live for a hundred years and more. Your new pupil is just waiting for you. And you had a promise to keep on her birthday." The King smiled.
"It would be my good fortune my King", replied Vikram bowing low. He continued. "The venerable commander Vajrabahu seeks to accompany you on your tour today."
Dharmasena had a surprised look. "Does he needs to ask me? How can a shadow be separated from its person? Vikram lead him in. No, you go to him taking the princess with you. Let her have the blessings from the fiercest swordsman of our land before she starts her lessons. After that, We shall leave the student and the teacher to their lessons alone."
Sometime later, the king and commander set out for their visit. They admired the richness of the nature around them and the beauty of vegetation which was pampered by the flow of river Narmada.
Towards mid day, they approached a smaller rivulet for the Sun worship. There, they encountered a group of people who seemed in a hurry to progress towards Northwest. They looked tired and famished from an apparently long journey.
"We are the unfortunate citizens of Mathura, fleeing our beloved Motherland. We have strayed away from our people because of the storm a couple of days back. Our womenfolk would be alone in those crowds. We need to find them" One of them spoke in a helpless tone.
Their pitiable condition melted the hearts of the two friends. The king and the commander gave them the food they were carrying and some jewels. "Hope this would come of use. But why don't you first partake the food and have some rest?" The King spoke with great kindness.
As the little party sat down at the banks of the rivulet, the villagers happily partook the food. The two friends felt sorry they could not give the hungry people more food. Hunting could not help as the group said it desisted from eating meat.
"What makes you flee you motherland, my friends. Kindly tell us if we can be of some help." Vajrabahu spoke as the King directed.
"Of what help can you be Kind sirs, when our fates are sealed and danger pursues us in all forms? First, it was the paranoid, avaricious murderer Kamsa and now it is his father in law. That Demon. Jarasandha of Magadha." A person wailed.
The second one added. "As if it was not enough that the tyrant from Magadha is persecuting us, he also got this beastly Kalayavana from the far western lands to attack us on the other side. What can we do? Our only hope was to find a safe asylum at Kushasthali in Saurashtra. But we've lost our way."
Upon further enquiring, Dharmasena gathered that the exodus was masterminded by a young Yadava and his older brother who struck an alliance with the aged King of Kushasthali.The yadava, who the villagers called as Krishna Vaasudeva was almost considered a hero by the other Yadavas. The exodus was planned carefully so that the two invaders from Magadha and Yavana desa would find a deserted city of Mathura.
"We have trusted that young hero's words an bid adieu to Mathura. But now, I've lost lost hope. It was a mistake to trust him and come to strange lands."
Another opposed him. "His way was the only way out for us. This is the time we should support the one who did so much for us. Krishna Vaasudeva was the one who got us rid of Kamsa. We knew what it is to live with freedom and self respect once again. He defeated the powerful Jarasandha. This time if he tells us to move out of Mathura, our good lies in moving out."
A burly bodied man who was quiet all the time could not control himself. " If he was so capable then, why are we fleeing like cowards now? Your beloved son of Vasudeva thinks that we are women wearing bangles who cant defend our motherland.
"Oh brave warrior of the three worlds. Why dont you go and kill Jarasandha and that Western invader?" was the sarcastic reply of the one who supported Krishna Vaasudeva earlier.
Vajrabahu intervened. " Venerable sirs, why do you engage in petty arguments in the time of crisis. Please refresh yourselves and hasten towards Kushasthali. We shall help you with finding the way out of this jungle. We can stop by our camp which is about half a yojana (13 kms roughly) from here and you can carry more food for your journey ahead."
His words worked and much to his relief the yadavas quietened down. They were happy at the invitation of Dharmasena and followed the King of Anagha towards the Royal camping spot.
Vajrabahu who was leading the way suddenly stopped. He signalled the others to stop and bent down to put his ear to the ground. "Seems like two horses. They are proceeding towards us." He spoke in a low voice.
Dharmasena assured the yadavas placing his hand on the hilt of his sword. "Do not fear my friends. Your protection is our duty now. We shall face them and teach them a lesson if they mean to harm you."
Sooner than they expected, the party was accosted by two riders. One of them was quick to dismount and approach them. Though fatigue was visible on his body, his face wore a smile which allayed the concerns of Vajrabahu. To his surprise and that of Dharmasena, a couple of yadavas gave out joyful shouts.
"Victory to Krishna Vaasudeva! Victory to the saviour of Yadavas, to the saviour of Dharma!"
As the King of Anagha and his commander looked on, Krishna went to the yadavas and spoke to them with tone overflowing with concern and kindness.
"My brothers, We were so concerned about you. I have been searching for you for more than a day.Your womenfolk are safe but worried. Could you get to eat something in the past three days? Do not despair, for we have crossed more than half the distance to Kushasthali. I assure your woes shall soon come to an end."
Dharmasena could not help being charmed by the youngster's way of endearing himself to his people. What he heard about the exploits of Krishna had also raised his regard for the budding hero.
He found it hard to take his eyes off Krishna, as the son of Vasudeva approached him. With folded hands Krishna spoke in sweetest words the King of Anagha would have ever heard. "Noble Sir, I do not know who you are, but I cannot thank you enough for the help you rendered to my Yadavas in their time of need. I am Krishna, the Son of Vasudeva."
Dharmasena, though much older than Krishna, felt his hands come together instinctively as a counter salutation. It was difficult to say the reason; whether it was the magic of Krishna's personality, the sweetness of his smile and words, or the King's admiration for Krishna's concern for his people that he came all the way searching for these six or seven people.
"It was my dharma and my fortune in the least to be of help to the noble Yadavas, Son of Vasudeva. In fact, I request you to come to our camp and rest a while before you resume your journey."
Vajrabahu intervened before Krishna could reply. "Noble Yadava, You are speaking to the King of Anagha, His Majesty Dharmasena."
The smile on the face of Vaasudeva became more pronounced. " Its indeed a pleasure to see you in person King of Anagha. Your skill of sword is famous in the whole of Avanti where I spent my pupil days too. The Great God was gracious in making our meeting happen. These Yadavas are indeed fortunate."
Dharmasena, who had mastered the art of controlling his ego and remaining unaffected by praise, could not help a sense of elation to hear words of praise from Krishna. He felt like a student praised by his teacher. He held the folded hands of Krishna Vaasudeva and drew him closer in an affectionate embrace while the latter returned it with equal grace.
A desire sprouted in his heart almost becoming thousand fold stronger that he needed all his strength to withdraw from the embrace.
"Can it happen?" He thought in his mind.