Dharmasena was lost in thought. His spies had brought some disturbing news from Avanthi. The King of Avanthi had apparently taken ill and could not attend to Royal affairs for a long time. The sources from the palace claimed that the pang of separation from his beloved daughter had costed him his health.
For all that Dharmasena knew about the Lord of Avanthi, he was not emotionally weak however strong was his love for princess Mitravinda. A continued illness of a famed warrior like Jayasena on this account seemed quite untrue. Another news of concern was that the Queen Rajadhi, according to the spies had not arrived at the temple of the Mother where she offered worship every friday. Dharmasena weighed options if he could invite the Royal couple to Anagha for a while in the pretext of hosting a festival.
"Salutations father. It is long past Sunset. You did not arrive for evening meal?"
Dharmasena looked up surprised for he was unaware of the passing time. He then smiled. "Daughter, You know the pressures of the throne. Don't you worry about my meal."
But Abhaya was adamant and he had to give in. She was not pleased to see him lost in thought. It was evident that everything had not been well since the incidents that took place at Avanthi. Vikram had earned the wrath of the twin princes and it had strained the relations between Avanthi and Anagha considerably.
In fact King Jayasena had sent a cryptic message signalling Anagha to forge new alliances with other neighbouring provinces. That was the last message and there was no other royal communications beyond that for weeks.
Abhaya had been in her own world too. The words of warning from Mitravinda set her thinking about the impending threat to her province. Noble Yadavas could support, but they were geographically far away.
When a thought struck her, Abhaya looked up, her eyes shining with new hope.
"Father, I know what has been bothering you all this while. Would it help if we, Myself and brother Vikram campaign in the naga areas and recruit the promising naga youth into our military?
"What is my princess planning for? A conquest of Aryavarta?" Dharmasena tried to pacify Abhaya humorously.
"Noble Father, please do not play down the issue lightly. I think I am old enough to share your burden. Yes, I have an idea of the pressures of the throne. In fact, a better idea after my visit to Dwaraka.
"What did you learn at Dwaraka?" Dharmasena asked indulgently.
"Nothing new, but gained a new perspective on the trade route and Highway which we overlook. The one that connects Saurashtra to the rest of Aryavarta and the one that connects Matsya to the South."
"Yes, because of the same, our treasuries remain full and our small province has been prosperous. What about it?"
"My King, We, historically have maintained a close friendship with Avanthi and have cordial communications with Matsya. Saurashtra, the Yadu confederacy though not a Kingly province has emerged powerful in the recent years. Yadava leaders wield influence over other powerful Kingdoms like Kuru and Panchala."
Dharmasena continued to listen suddenly wondering if he was really speaking to his fifteen year old daughter.
"Now Father, hypothetically if Avanthi or Matsya, gains control over Anagha and subsequently, the two highways, they can put up a huge barrier cutting off Saurashtra from the central Aryavarta. God of Gods forbid so from happening."
" Your observations are correct princess." Dharmasena nodded.
"Father, I am almost sure that Matsya would not be interested to aggress over as they share friendly relationships with the yadavas as well as the Pandavas of the Kuru dynasty. In fact, their wealth again in primarily dependent on their cattle and they share the knowledge of that wealth with the Yadavas. Now, with the Pandavas emerging as the new powers in the North and with Yadavas being closely related to them, Matsya would want both sides to flourish."
Taking a pause, Abhaya continued.
"Father, Avanthi on the other hand, I specifically mean the twin princes share a closer bond with the Kuru prince Duryodhana, who is opposed to the Pandavas. They have a good reason to gain control of the highway so that they can offer whatever hindrance they can to the combined prosperities of Indraprastha (Pandava capital), Matsya and Saurashtra."
Dharmasena's face lit up at the analysis presented by his daughter. For a moment, he was overcome with pride.
"Daughter, the Yadava women have indeed tutored you well. But don't you think they might have given you a single sided perspective?" He asked indulgently.
"Not all the Yadava women, My King. It was mostly Princess Mitravinda. I did gather some facts myself as I spoke to Subhadra and Princess Bhadra of Kekaya."
"The princess of Avanthi has really warmed up to you. It pleases me Abhaya. But when it comes to political matters, you need to weight the options, my daughter." Dharmasena thoughtfully replied.
"Not only weigh options father, we need to take a stance. We need to choose a side. Between the Yadavas and Pandavas on one side and between Avanthi and rest of Kurus on the other. Or if I might take the liberty to say, between Dharma and Adharma?"
"Now, Abhaya, aren't you becoming judgemental? Based on particular incidents, do you find it right to generalize as to who follows Dharma?"
"I agree we should not rush into quick conclusions, father. But, we all know that giving in to human weaknesses strays us away from Dharma and one would eventually find himself spiraling into the vortex of Adharma. Now, between the sides I have mentioned, I notice a side giving into greed, jealousy and lust for power and the other side taking to rigorous industry and collaborative prosperity. Isn't that a good clue?"
" You have indeed taken the right approach, my child. Yes, we need to take sides sooner or later. You can very well embark on your spree of recruiting the Nagas into our military. But take care to keep Vikram away from the southern borders. Do venture towards North, East and West, but not South. You know why." Dharmasena smiled meaningfully.
"Of course, I promise to protect your son and prevent him from attracting un due attention from Avanthi." Abhaya smiled back.
Dharmasena continued after some thought. “The trade route now has given me a new hope, my child. Now, the twin princes would try to gain control over the route by friendly means first. That should give us the much necessary time to strengthen ourselves militarily and strategically.”
“By friendly means? How Father?”, Abhaya questioned back, her concerns aroused as Mitravinda’s words rang in her ears.
“It is difficult to find out how. But I can surely say that if any other means exists other than taking to blades and clubs, they would resort to that first.” Dharmasena explained.
“The so called peaceful means should hopefully not endanger our future.” Abhaya spoke as if speaking to herself.”
She did not speak after that. As she turned to leave for her apartments after the meal, Dharmasena called her back.
“Abhaya, it pains me to see that your smile is eclipsed by the worries of the Kingdom. I assure you that any danger going to befall you should pass through me first. And I won’t let it pass till the last breathe. Have faith in me, my child.”
Abhaya turned around, touched to hear his words and rushed into his arms. “No danger shall ever befall even you, father. You have taught me to walk on the path of Dharma, which you have always worshipped as the foremost. And Dharma protects those who stand by it. I need no more assurance beyond that.”
She remembered the words of Krishna at Dwaraka and an unexplainable joy spread in her heart.
As Dharmasena held his daughter close to him, he suddenly remember how much he missed spending the quality time he used to spend with her in the recent weeks.
“Abhaya, let us go to the terrace of your chambers, where as a child, you used to get me tell you countless stories. So which story shall I tell you today?”
Abhaya was excited at the memories of her childhood. A thought struck her and she turned to her father, smiling. “Tell me your story tonight, Father.”
Dharmasena laughed. "What's there about me that my precious daughter does not know?"
Looking at him intently for a moment, Abhaya asked," Father, why din't you marry again after Mother passed away?"
"What makes you ask so, Abhaya?" Dharmasena looked startled. With a sudden spurt of concern, he drew her closer to him. "Do you miss having a mother? But, why wouldn't you? The King in me has eclipsed the father. No wonder you feel lonely and uncared..."
"My noble Father, your love has always made me feel at the top of this world. It was you all the way. I have never seen my mother to actually miss her."
"Abhaya, you were an infant, barely an year old when she left for the land of manes. Do you know child? You resemble her a lot."
Abhaya was moved to see her father so emotional and tenderly seated herself on the floor at his feet and laid her head on his lap. "How fortunate I am to be born as your daughter! You loved Mother dearly. Din't you?"
"Yes" was the reply she heard from a voice that seemed drowned in a spurt of the past memories.
"Father, a husband who loves his wife truly would never accept another woman in his life. Would he?"
"It seems like it Abhaya. No man who is in love with his wife would choose to have another woman share her place. But daughter, life does not leave this choice to every man. I was rather fortunate that I could decide."
"What do you mean, father? What can force a man to look beyond his first love?"
Dharmasena now composed himself. "Abhaya, the very same Dharma you were talking about is capable of putting forth such demands. And a noble Arya would not put the preferences of his own self before those of Dharma. Dharma is that which balances the needs of this universe and ensures greater good."
"You did not face any such demand?" Abhaya questioned thoughtfully.
"I did. You late grand mother then, wanted me to marry again so that I could have a son to continue my lineage and give a worthy yuvaraja to the throne of Anagha."
"The father, how did you get to choose otherwise?" Abhaya questioned, her interest greatly aroused.
"In those days, my child, my heart used to break hearing you cry out in the middle of night. As an infant, you could probably sense the absence of your mother, her affectionate touch, her cosy lap and her soothing lullabies. It took me quite sometime to understand your needs. I slowly learnt to make out when you felt hungry, when you felt sick, or when you sought comforting arms. I was greatly against placing you in the arms of another woman for you were the very image of your mother. Her precious shadow which stayed back to light my life. So when your late grand mother proposed another marriage, my heart revolted. But giving a yuvaraja to the throne of Anagha was my Dharma and she was not entirely wrong. Again, marrying a woman only for the purpose while not giving her the rightful place of your mother seemed against Dharma. I was in a great dilemma."
He paused partly due to exhaustion and partly due to emotions. Abhaya chose not to prod him further and gently squeezed his palm.
The King continued. "To pacify myself in order to take a balanced decision, I needed to take my thoughts off all these. I went hunting alone towards the adjoining Naga settlements. That day, God of Gods showed me a solution to my predicament. Destiny brought me, Vikram, a Naga boy. My heart told me he would become my Yuvaraja. And I was spared from the arduous decision of marrying again."
Abhaya smile, her eyes brimming with pride. "So you consider him, your worthy heir, father. Then why don't you make a formal announcement. He has been a brother to me in all respects. I too agree with you that he has all the promise to be a good ruler in the future."
The King smiled. "I hope to do so, soon. I also need to make sure that the nobles and Army generals accept him completely. That seems like it would take more time."
"It is no secret that your 'noble' commander hates him. Vikram has always excelled and made him green with jealousy. And the differences dont seem to be coming down in the near future." Abhaya spoke out in sadness.
"That is my worry for the moment, Abhaya. But I do hope against hope that they can soon reconcile to working together." Dharmasena sighed.
"Father, you have a long life ahead. By the grace of the Gods, your commander should attain the maturity to recognize the greatness of my brother. That reminds me, do keep my idea of enlisting the Naga support to our army to yourself. The commander can know when we've gathered some good support. The mustered numbers could also change his mind."