"Seems like the activities of Swayamvara would be paralysed if my daughter is away even for a minute." Dharmasena remarked as he was the Royal chariot of Avanthi parked in front of the guest house. The charioteer came from the Queen of Avanthi seeking to escort princess Abhaya to the palace.
Princess Abhaya smiled at her father indulgently. "Same goes to you, Father. Since the last two days we haven't even seen each other. You have been busy with the King of Avanthi and I, with the princess. And today, she wants me to stay with her as her guest even for the night. Even the Queen was insistent. What would you say Father? I would do what you deem as right."
Dharmasena was glad in his heart that the ancestral friendship between Anagha and Avanthi was now continuing between the two princesses. " By all means Abhaya, stay back and be a good friend to the princess of Avanti. Also carry my message to Her Majesty that I do not worry about your safety while you are under her care. I am in fact glad that our family is getting to indulge and involve in this moment of celebration."
Abhaya left to the Royal palace of the Queen after duly taking leave. She felt unsure about her father thinking about this Swayamvara as a moment of celebration. It seemed that she alone is aware of the turmoil which the princess of Avanthi is going through.
When she reached the inner chambers of the Princess of Avanthi, Abhaya found Mitravinda looking disconsolate. "Princess of Anagha, He is gone! They left for the gurukul even after he got my letter!" Mitravinda clung to Abhaya. Abhaya held the princess of Avanthi. She wanted to console Mitravinda but was at a loss about what to do.
"I'd rather die than choose anyone else in tomorrow's swayamvara." Mitravinda spoke resolutely after calming down. Abhaya put her arms around Mitravinda, trying to comfort her as much as she could. Though Princess Mitravinda was three or four years older than her, she understood the deep sorrow the princess of Avanthi felt in losing the man she loved.
"Don't give way to sorrow like this Princess! You belong to the famed dynasty of Avanthi. Your mother hails from the family of brave Shooras. You have lived a life of Dharma. I am sure the God of Gods shall not fail you. Take heart and wait until tomorrow." Abhaya could not speak more than this. She knew there wasn't a way out with that brother of Subhadra leaving just when he was needed.
The ceremonies went on in a feverish pace. The princess of Anagha stayed with the bride all the time giving whatever courage and support she could. She looked at the other members of the family. The twin princes were as expected happy to have people whom they favoured. King Jayasena and Queen Rajadhi strangely seemed oblivious to the pain that Mitravinda was undergoing. Rajadhi Devi did betray a feeling of silent sorrow at times when the princes spoke highly of this suitor or the other. But Abhaya made out that the queen never let her feelings known publicly.
King Dharmasena spent the day along with the King of Avanti and the royal princes. He met various other suitors and well wishers of Avanti who kept arriving to grace the situation. Vikram and Veerabahu kept close to him all the while. Vikram at times was overwhelmed with the royal protocols Avanti followed, but was quick to adapt. He found Veerabahu zealously mingling with the princes, Vinda and Anuvinda and their company. It was not long before the young commander strayed away from his king to join others in celebrations.
By the nightfall, King Dharmasena returned to the guesthouse along with Vikram. He enquired about the commander who was not seen since afternoon.
"Rest my Lord, I shall look out for the commander. " Vikram assured his King and set out towards the palace of the twin brothers.
As he reached, he could hear gay laughter of the princes and noblemen who were extended hospitality by the twin princes. Nearing the garden, he found most of them drunk and partly free of natural inhibitions. A sudden discomfort gripped him as he saw Commander Veerabahu under the effect of an overdose of wine.
He stepped forward to talk to him and was spotted by prince Vinda, who was also drunk but seemed to be in his senses.
"Oh, Welcome, Prince Vikram of Anagha, Finally you are magnanimous to grace our celebrations."
Vikram froze as he heard himself being addressed as 'prince'. "Forgive me Prince, My King, His Majesty Dharmasena wishes to have our Commander back in our guesthouse. Commander Veerabahu.." Vikram spoke, emphasizing on "My King" so as to show that he never intended to take any liberties as the adopted son of King Dharmasena.
"His Majesty misses this worthless man, while he has his darling son with him? This makes my day.." A drunk Veerabahu spoke in thick accent audible enough for everyone present there.
Vikram's heart started beating fast at the undue attention he got. He moved closer to Veerabahu, his eyes full of reproach. "Commander, The King seeks to meet you. Would you please..."
Veerabahu seemed to have lost his reserve and royal etiquette completely. " What do I lack that is in you, Prince Vikram. I even excel in wielding the blade and am better than you. Still, I can just be the commander, while you be the crown prince. You would become the King and command me next. Your Majesty, I was unlucky not to be born as a tribal orphan like you!"
Vikram hurriedly lifted the unstable Veerabahu, not wanting to let the uncomfortable conversation continue. Veerabahu let himself be guided with unsure steps still cursing his luck.
"I am worthy and yet go unacknowledged. I doubled the military strength of Anagha. I care for the royal family as nobody does. It was my idea to have the secret passage out of the fort to the temple of Anagheshwari.."
Vikram hurriedly interrupted, turning to Prince Vinda. "Your Highness, forgive my commander. Kindly excuse us."
As he guided Veerabahu through the royal streets and led him to the guesthouse, a storm raged in Vikram's heart. He never thought of himself as a prince. The jealousy of Veerabahu always hurt him.
King Dharmasena was fast asleep by the time the duo reached the gates of the guest house. With great relief, Vikram helped Veerabahu to his bed and got ready to rest for the day.
In the night, as they were about to sleep, Mitravinda drew Abhaya close to her. "Abhaya, you were a true sister to me. I could not have confided more in my own sister if I had one. You rest by my side today. I can see that this whole thing has drained you too."
As they lied down, Mitravinda suddenly asked, "How old are you Abhaya?"
"Fourteen. Why do you ask sister?" Abhaya replied.
Mitravinda was silent for a while. Then she sighed. " God of Gods! your young heart would have got disgusted at the turn of events here. It was wrong of me to have involved you in all this! Your regard for my family would now have diminished to nothing! I can see why the best of Shooras, the son of Vasudeva is displeased with me. I acted in the most inappropriate way! What would they have thought of you when you delivered my message. Alas! sister, I have endangered your reputation."
Abhaya understood what the princess of Avanthi meant. But she was sure she did what was adhering to Dharma. If secondary protocols had to be relaxed to protect Dharma which is above all, so be it.
In reply, she pressed the palm of Mitravinda and assured her. "You consider me your sister. Would I disrespect your family ever? And I do not think you did anything that is displeasing. Just free yourself of all worry and brace yourself to face the swayamvara tomorrow. Be steadfast in your belief and stand by it against all odds. I am sure Lord Narayana would show you a way out."
In the dead of the night a maid entered the bed chambers in quite a hurry. In unsure words, she woke up the princess. Mitravinda woke with a start and was surprised to know that her brothers sought to meet her. She adjusted her dress and stepped outside her chambers in a hurry, not wanting to distrub the sleep of the princess of Anagha.
"Vinda, Anuvinda? Mother? At this hour of night?" She asked.
"Sit down, Mitravinda. Your brothers have got something to tell you." Queen Rajadhi motioned.
Vinda cleared his throat and moved closer to his sister. "Dear sister, we have always been dreaming to see you seated n a high throne and always wanted you to wed a lion among rulers. Our dream is going to come true tomorrow."
Mitravinda remained silent, her face expressionless. She expected what would come next.
Vinda continued, "The arrival of the Kuru host is an assurance of your bright future, Mitra. Do you realize the fortune that is waiting to smile upon you?"
Mitravinda could not help showing up a sarcastic smile. She still chose not to speak. The volcano that had been building up in her heart would burst if she even opened her mouth, she felt.
"Do you even care to listen to what Elder brother speaks?" Anuvinda's impatient voice came from behind, shattering the silence of the night.
"Anuvinda, I have a guest, asleep in my chambers. Would you care to lower your voice? And I am listening to your dreams and fantasies. An your plans to make me a pawn in those." Mitravinda retorted back, not taking her gaze of the ground.
Anuvinda turned to his brother. "What is the point of telling anything to this foolish girl Vinda? Her ears are filled with those flute notesand wont take in anything sensible. Left to her, she would spoil her life with a thrice married cowherd who parades himself as a prince. She prefers becoming a nobody in that vast Yadu womenfolk to occupying the Kuru throne"
Mitravinda could take it no longer. "And your eyes are blinded with the glitter of Kuru riches. You are not capable of viewing the greatness of Vaasudeva. Nor can you fathom the significance of what he stands for. The power lusty princes of Avanthi prefer to barter the life of their sister for their own greed." She fought back tears and looked away.
"Enough, you impudent girl!" hissed Anuvinda. Tomorrow, Crown princes Duryodhana is going to win your hand. And you shall choose him. That is final."
"Then, why fake this swayamvara? How can you appropriate my right to choose a husband of my choice and fake the opposite to the world outside?" Mitravinda's voice sounded fierce.
"Mother, if your sons have told what they came to tell me, they can leave." She turned to look straight into the eyes of Queen Rajadhi whose eyes showed extreme pain valiantly held in bay from turning into tears.
"The Kuru Prince is going to be your groom and nobody can change it. Not even Father. You already know of it. Don't you?" With these words, Vinda left along with his brother.
The Queen stood up from her place and motioned Mitravinda to come closer.