The setting sun made the waters of Mahi glow in a golden red hue. Through highway on the banks, the chariot sped along. The horses began to slow down out of fatigue. But the charioteer, the lady Subhadra of Dwaraka seemed to show no signs of giving them any rest. In her mind, she calculated the distance to be covered before the sun set completely.
Disturbed by the slowing down of the stallions, she raised her whip again. But her hand was withheld from behind. Her hand which had valiantly held the whip, the other hand which held the reins and the rest of her frame underwent a mild shiver at the touch. Her face turned pink. She half turned in a mock resistance, but her heart yearned that this hand hold hers forever. "Aryaputra, we can't slow down. Why do you stop me from speeding further?"
"Subhadra, you must be the only woman in the history to speed away from your mother's place on your wedding. All the brides I saw at least shed a tear or two in the sorrow of leaving their maternal homes. " Arjuna joked in humour.
Subhadra laughed merrily. "Aunt Kunti, I mean Mother Kunti pampers me more than my mother. That explains my happiness!" She suddenly blushed sensing the intent gaze of Arjuna.
"Oh, the God of Gods was merciful. You can blush? I had convinced myself to put up with this girl who can never stop chattering and whose skin refuses to turn pink."
Subhadra withdrew her hand in mock anger. Arjuna held her again.
"Veerangana (valiant woman), for us to reach Indraprastha, we need to keep these horses alive. And for that they need their fill of water. We would soon change our course Northward and leave the river. So would you take pity on my poor horses?"
"Maharathi, I can understand the thirst of the horses. But If I hesitate to stop the chariot for a different kind of thirst in your eyes worries me."
"Great God! does becoming a wife empower women with invincible power of argument? Subhadra, It is time for my Sun worship now. You would not want me straying away from my Dharma the very day we got married. Would you? Just think about my dearest wife's reputation! "
Subhadra relented with an air of royal grace. " Maharathi, here is the resolve of a pativrata. Stopping the chariot for my Patidharma."
The western sky had begun to turn into a reddish hue by then. As Arjuna stepped into the waters to offer the Arghya to Sun, Subhadra led the horses to quench their thirst. The darkening sky worried her. She remembered the words of her brother Krishna advising her to reach the outskirts of Anagha by the nightfall and if possible, announce themselves to its King. But it dint seem to be much of a possibility with the province still yojanas away, the night fast approaching and a seemingly never ending Sun worship procedure of Arjuna. But the worship of the Lord of skies was a must in the routine of High born Kshatriyas and she, Subhadra, could not let Arjuna break the code of conduct the very day of their wedding.
She looked indignant when Arjuna turned back after his ritual and approached her.
"Some hurry, you are in, Aryaputra, even after abducting your new bride!"
Arjuna smiled. "Some abduction it is indeed!" He laughed. "I just dont have the satisfaction of carrying away my bride. Your brother Krishna knew and pushed us forward. His 4 wives knew it. Uncle Vasudeva and Aunts Devaki and Rohini also knew. I suspect even the wife of Big Brother had a clue and chose not to act. To top it all, your so called body guards were doing nothing till you got onto the chariot and cracked the whip as if they were instructed not to act soon. Such a staged drama does suit a Maharathi for sure!"
Subhadra turned with a mischievous smile. "Oh you wanted some excitement din't you. Alright! I would have gladly turned the chariot back towards Dwaraka to fulfil your valiant wishes, Maharathi." Turning serious again, she continued. " But, brother Krishna instructed me to reach Anagha by nightfall and announce ourselves to its King. But the night seems to approach so fast. What to do now? The horses cant really see well in the dark ans we would be left in the middle of these forests."
"Stranded in the blooming wilderness with your new bride in the twilight of the peak spring season. I bet even Kamadeva was not so fortunate." Arjuna stepped closer. Subhadra's pink cheeks reddened and the glow of the reflection of the setting sun in her deer like eyes. Her eye lashes dropped down as he caught her in his arms, strong with warrior like muscles with passion of a lover over flowing in his veins.
"What makes my Maharathi suddenly turn into a rasika?" She coyly questioned, her lips quivering with anticipation.
"The gaze of this deer eyed maiden can anytime over power a Maharathi. Subhadra, your eyes alone can shame the beauty of the rest of the universe heaped at a time."
Bashfully, Subhadra hid her face against his broad chest. His embrace seemed to melt her excitement into a storm of passion. Holding for a couple of moments, she turned into her natural self.
"Lord, I had visited your Indraprastha after the completion of the city construction. I was walking through its dazzling corridors when I heard the same words being spoken. Later, I realized those came from the chambers of Queen Draupadi and the third of the five valiant brothers."
Arjuna sheepishly turned away, holding her with greater resolve. A teasing smile appeared on his face. "That was years back. So you remembered it all along and finally achieved your dream of hearing them again for you?"
"The best archer of the world knows to play with words for sure!" Subhadra's brows came together in mock sternness. "Now Aryaputra, let us make the most of the fading daylight."
Arjuna jumped on to the chariot and helped her in. Subhadra pressed her lips hard to conceal a smile of ecstasy as he pulled her up right hand and supported her slender waist for a moment before she could stand on the terrace of the chariot.
The couple proceeded for a quarter of a yojana towards north from there when the clanging of swords was heard. It was almost dark and the horses too slowed down. The clanging of blades became more audible. and campfires were seen towards a clearing that was approaching.
Arjuna left the reins and took up his famed bow Gandeeva. He gently pulled Subhadra behind him and turned the chariot towards the camp. It belonged to the Nagas who seemed to be training in warfare. Several Naga youth were seen in pairs or groups practising swords. Very few were seen trying to hit short distance targets with arrows.
"Oh, I know her!" Subhadra exclaimed looking pleased. She pointed out at a maiden looking about sixteen, standing away from the groups, examining swords piled in front of her and distributing them into different sets.
Arjuna pulled the reins to stop the chariot. The Nagas around stopped their practice and moved to surround the chariot.
Abhaya sensed the commotion around and looked up. Her eyes widened as she recognized Subhadra. Arjuna relaxed his hold on the Gandeeva when he sensed the friendly gesture of the maiden who seemed to lead the Naga soldiers in training.
"Aryaputra, she is the princess of Anagha." Subhadra spoke as she jumped down from the stationary chariot to meet Abhaya.
Abhaya, dressed in a man's garments as they suited better for sword practice, hurried forward to meet Subhadra. There was no air of formality between them as they met in a warm embrace.
"Princess Abhaya, meet my....." Subhadra's words were left hanging in a air of sudden self consciousness. She turned around and saw Arjuna too alighting the chariot. "The... the third Son of Empress Kunti from Indra prastha. " The words were filled with excitement. "No, its just we both." Subhadra concluded. when she saw Abhaya gazing forward expecting more chariots.
Then Abhaya stopped, understand Subhadra's introduction suddenly.
"Third son of Empress Kunti from Indraprastha?" She repeated Subhadra's words. "Arjuna? the best archer in the world!! " She exclaimed, hurriedly bringing her hands together in salutation.
Subhadra nodded with a twinkle of pride in her eyes.
Abhaya found herself dumbfounded looking at the well built handsome frame of Arjuna, his shapely features and penetrating eyes.
"Welcome, Pride of Kurus! Son of the King of Gods!" The words came out showing her hesitation at the sudden arrival of a distinguished guest. The nagas around broke into an admiring commotion.
"I am human though!" Arjuna remarked with a smile sensing the awe around him, partly pleased and partly conscious at the sudden attention. He acknowledged Abhaya with a friendly air.
"We are indeed fortunate to have you as our guest. My father, the King would be here shortly. He would be highly pleased to meet you, best of Bharatas. "She hurriedly led them to the royal tent. A couple of maids hurried to assist her as she looked to make things comfortable for the guests.