Swayamvara

Abhaya woke up very early in the morning and found Mitravinda fast asleep next to her. It looked to her like the princess of Avanthi was completely oblivious to her big day and Abhaya did not have the heart to wake her up only to see the most testing or even fatal moment of her life.

She remembered overhearing the conversation that went on in the middle of the night before. Her heart went out to Mitravinda who defied her brothers' threats at this moment even when there was no apparent hope. "God of all Gods, Narayana! How fortunate am I to have a father like King Dharmasena who can understand what goes in my heart  each moment. Vikram, the brother and teacher is another boon given by you. Today I realize the the value of these boons as I see the heartless brothers and an oblivious father in the royal family of Avanthi. May I be born as the daughter of Dharmasena for all lives to come."

After a while, Mitravinda opened her eyes and found Abhaya praying ardently. She waited till the prayers were done and smiled. "Sister, stop worrying about me now. As you rightly said yesterday, I have nothing to fear when my heart is set. I shall stand up to it and face anything." 

Abhaya was surprised at this sudden change. The princess of Avanthi might have had decided to take the extreme step, she thought. "Sister Mitravinda, let me know if I can do anything more. Shall I speak to my father to tell your father, the King of Avanthi to stop this fake Swayamvara? I now cannot sit quietly as you walk to your death. I shall do anything in my hands to save you. May be, you can escape to the gurukul. The learned Kulapati might protect you and reason with your brothers. Perhaps your Vaasudeva would be there to stand by you." 

Mitravinda only smiled in reply. "I am not running away anywhere, Abhaya. I again ask you to stop worrying about me. You have done for me what even my own siblings would not do. I thank Mahakaleshwara for bringing you to me. Now don't sit there looking so tragic. Help me bedeck myself and be by my side in the swayamvara. Who knows, some noble hearted prince might lose his heart over you too!"

Queen Rajadhi appeared accompanied by several noble women. The womenfolk gave the ceremonial bath to the bride and bedecked her in befitting jewelry. As Abhaya struggled with a string of emeralds around her neck, she was helped unexpectedly by the Queen herself. "I admire your noble heart, child. I can never forget what you have done for me and my daughter." 

Abhaya turned around in shock. "Did the Queen know about what had happened all along? Did she do something that could unite Mitravinda with her chosen man? God of Gods! Please let this be true." These thought ran in Abhaya's mind as she looked wide eyed, facing Rajadhi.

"Daughter, your efforts and my daughter's love won't go in vain.." Rajadhi whispered with a smile. Before Abhaya could ask about anything, a maid announced the entry of the King. The princess of Avanthi who was now adorned in gold and silks looking like the personification of grandeur and fortune, got ready to take the blessings of both her parents.

After Jayasena blessed his daughter, his eyes fell upon the princess of Anagha who stood behind the Queen. His eyes showed a tender display of appreciation and indulgence and Abhaya could not but just bow at his feet. "Arise, daughter of Dharmasena. The steadfast character you inherited from your illustrious father shall take you to great heights." The King spoke as he laid an affectionate hand on her head.

Abhaya could not understand what had transpired between the Royal couple of Avanthi and their daughter. But she felt relieved and hopeful as the elders had overseen what happened and did not rebuke it. They were with their daughter. But how about the twin princes? Would they let things go as their sister wanted? Abhaya wondered to herself and set out with the Queen to the arena where the ceremony of choosing the groom would happen.

Suitors from different parts of AryAvarta with their retinues were seated, and anticipation was largely writ on their faces. First to enter were the priests of Avanti, chanting the hymns for the universal wellness, followed by the retainers announcing the entry of the Princes, The Royal couple and the princess who entered from their respective entry doors erected for the purpose. 

After the royal family was seated, a formal welcome was addressed by the minister of Avanthi to the suitors after which he also enunciated the glory of Avanthi and the prowess of the Kings who ruled over the province.

Abhaya who was seated along with the Queen, scanned the arena and found her father seated to the left side of the King, immediately next to the twin princes. Vikram and Veerabahu were seated behind him. She looked around hoping to find a host from Dwaraka. The suitors were given a due introduction. Keechaka, the powercentre of Matsya Kingdom, MeghaSandhi from Magadha, Duryodhana from Kuru commanded a differentiated air. There were suitors from Madra, Pandya, Koshala and Kekayas as well.

As per the custom, Princess Mitravinda was formally asked to choose one among them for her groom. Garland in hand, the princess of Avanthi gracefully stepped down the pedestal, accompanied by a hand maiden. As she moved in between the rows of the arena, the suitors looked upon with bated breathe.  She grew apprehensive as she approached the kuru host. There were all chances that their crown prince would try abducting her if she went past without choosing him.  She looked at the entrance, frantically praying. Her eyes fixed onto the entrance, she stopped moving forward signalling an excuse to gain some breathe.  With her heart breathing fast, the prayers growing more fervent, she handed over the garland to the hand maiden. She was rewarded by the sounds of the hooves of horses at a distance. The dust thrown up by the movement of the approaching chariot rose even above the enclosing wall of the arena. For a moment everyone's gaze shifted to know who the late entrant was. As the chariot approached, Mitravinda smiled, sighting the familiar eagle banner. In a flash, she grabbed the garland from the maid and broke into a run towards the approaching chariot. There was a small wave of cheer in the Kekaya and Koshala camps. The Magadhan host was ready to unsheath their swords and shoot the arrows. In a matter of moments, Mitravinda reached the chariot and was promptly helped in by the rider. It took more moments for the dust to settle before it became clear to the onlookers as to who the victorious groom was. 

Abhaya who witnessed all this with bated breathe, let out a sudden sigh. She looked at Queen Rajadhi whose eyes rained tears which were restrained all while. In a spurt of emotions, Rajadhi embraced Abhaya tearfully. "Live long Child, My daughter stands united with Vaasudeva and you saw to it!"

More chariots and horsemen followed to support the groom who was now garlanded by the bride. She caught the sight of Vaasudeva. His toned down limbs and a boyish face gave him the appearance of an ever young celestial. The bulky bow he carried with ease as he held out his conch to blow a victorious tune was a proof of the actual strength his apparently slender body commanded. 

To the surprise of everyone, the Krishna did not turn around the chariot to leave with his bride. He instead, set his horses to a slow movement towards the King of Avanthi. Mitravinda moved closer to him concealing a slight fear as they passed the kuru host. She was her brothers stupefied at the turn of events. Krishna now stopped the chariot, kept aside his bow and saluted the King Jayasena with Mitravinda wordlessly following the suit.

Abhaya watched wonderstruck at the noble and brave gesture of Vaasudeva. She turned to look at the reaction of the King. Her eyes fell on the twin princes first. To her horror, she saw Anuvinda aiming a pitchfork at Krishna whose head was slightly bent in salutation. A soundless sigh escaped her as she clutched Queen Rajadhi pointing out to the younger prince of Avanthi. Another hand suddenly arrested the hand of Anuvinda, mid way and the pitchfork fell just a few feet ahead. 

Anuvinda angrily turned to see who frustrated him and his eyes met those of Vikram. "Your Highness? Were you really going to aim at an unarmed person, who is the groom and your brother in law?" Vikram whispered. In frustration, Anuvinda drew his sword to strike him. A shocked Dharmasena stood up to intervene and held the hands of both. Vikram left his grip on Anuvinda and was protectively pulled farther behind by Dharmasena. 

Abhaya was not over the shock at what happened when Jayanthi fainted clinging to her. The attendants of the Queen helped her regain her senses as Abhaya looked back and forth, torn by her concern for Jayanthi and fear over what would happen to her father.

Jayasena broke the uncomfortable silence. "Anuvinda, restrain yourself! He only  stopped you from committing a henious crime. "

But Anuvinda did not show any signs of accepting the turn of events. He turned his angry glance towards Krishna. "You, you can never have my sister. You can't get out of Avanthi alive with her. "

Krishna looked at him unperturbed. "Have you forgotten the bindings of a swayamvara, dear cousin? I am sure you saw the bride making her choice in front of your very eyes. "

"And dare you ask Vaasudeva to give up the bride again.." roared a voice behind Krishna. The muscular figure advanced towards the royal pedestal brandishing a gleaming sword. His progress was restrained by Krishna.

"Step back, Satyaki, this is the home of my paternal Aunt Rajadhi." He turned his eyes towards Anuvinda who was held back by Vinda from advancing any further. The elder prince of Avanthi realized the folly in resisting the formidable Yadava host. The Koshala and Kekayas were geared up to support them in case of a fight. The Kurus might not wholeheartedly fight back the Yadavas for diplomatic reasons. The army of Magadha did not turn up in sufficient numbers to face the combined army. 

The King of Avanthi was relieved to see Anuvinda backing off though unhappy. Without wasting any time,  he turned towards Krishna and Mitravinda who was now clinging to Krishna's arm, her eyes showing a clear defiance."

Jayasena stepped down and embraced his son in law for all he was worth. " I am forever indebted to you, valiant scion of Shooras. You indeed saved me from the sin of bartering my daughter's life for petty political gains."

The End

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