“Its kind of hard to believe that the Lord of Avanthi has suddenly broken his silence. I hope your Majesty appreciates my concerns.” Vajrabahu thoughtfully commented at the silence that ensued after reading out the message from Avanthi. The King of Avanthi had expressed his strong interest in seeking the hand of Princess Abhaya for the younger prince of Avanthi and had invited the Lord of Anagha for further talks. The letter also requested Dharmasena to participate in some of the crucial strategic decisions of Avanthi.
“My instincts tell me that Avanthi is planning to resist the Pandava conquest and is consolidating its forces. The highway is crucial for them to pose a strong defence. In order to gain an unconditional control over the highway, they wish that you be under their influence. This alliance is a fine way to achieve that. But unfortunately for Avanthi, Anagha has some people who can see through this.” Vajrabahu explained, anger mounting at every sentence. It was the anger of an injured lion.
“Your Majesty, this is a decisive moment. A moment to assert our autonomy, our valour and our honour.” Veerabahu added to his uncle’s words.
“I can very well understand your perspectives, Vajrabahu and Veerabahu. I do agree with them also. But my venerable friend Jayasena, I am sure is not capable of this level of self centred secrecy when it comes to strategic issues. If he sought the strengthening of Avanthi in view of the impending Rajasuya, he would have expressed the same with me. After all, we studied together under Gurudeva. Vajrabahu don’t you know him as well?” Dharmasena pointed out, his heart loathe to think of his gentle friend and Lord of Avanthi of hatching such a plan.
“The even raises my concerns, My King. I hold the Lord of Avanthi in extreme respect. My mind feels quite uncomfortable at this message. Did the twin princes conjure this letter. King Jayasena who had continuously been keeping ill has never sent you any message other than routine cordial ones in the past couple of years. This letter shows him so unnaturally back in action. Something is not right, My Lord.” Vajrabahu continued to convince his King. Veerabahu who was seated to his right turned more uncomfortable at his uncle’s speculations.
“Uncle, would the twin princes be so evil as to forge their venerable father’s insignia and fake this letter for their benefit? Then what would have happened to the old King?”
Dharmasena’s eyes threw a startled glance at Veerabahu. “Now, this makes me a lot more uncomfortable. I am now even more concerned for my old friend.” He then turned to Vajrabahu. “Your fears are not without reason, good friend. But now, I want to use any small or big opportunity to gain access to the old King. If his sons are holding him against his wishes, I would want to help him in any way I can. Dangerous as it seems, I think I should accept this invitation and …”
“And endanger yourself, the princess and all of us?” Vajrabahu protested. “My King, if you are so concerned about the Lord of out neighboring province, please invite him here to discuss this alliance and other so called crucial issues. Pray, please don’t let this province of yours fear for its King’s life.”
“My Lord, “ Veerabahu hesitatingly interrupted. I do not boast being a diplomatic expert. But if Her Highness is against this proposal. Why cant we simply send out a regret letter and close the matter?”
“Your knowledge about the princess’ wishes is quite impressive.” remarked Dharmasena, his tone betraying a tinge of surprise and suspicion.
“Forgive me Lord, Noble Vikram told me about it himself.” Veerabahu explained. “Pardon my audacity Lord, but what is the harm in being plain and frank?”
“It is just that you give them no choice but to resort to an attack.” Vajrabahu shot back, apparently annoyed at his nephew’s shortsighted suggestions. “So commander, can we withstand a full fledged attack? That too an attack by Avanthi with its full strength?”
“Relax Vajrabahu, I am sure the youngsters are doing their best. But whatever we can do, we cannot afford to compete with Avanthi in numbers. Now I hope you see the significance of maintaining a diplomatic stance with our stronger neighbor. A healthy relationship is possible with the Noble Jayasena on the throne and not with either of his sons. I think it is a worthy risk to attempt meeting King Jayasena.” Dharmasena spoke after moments of deliberation.
“I would never approve of you walking into that trap.” Vajrabahu shot back, his tone showing sounds of exasperation.
“We would not say yes to their proposal. We prefer not to say a direct no. Now when The King himself sends as invite, we don’t accept it. Is it not another way of attracting hostile attention? If I go to meet my old friend, I stand a good chance of convincing him about the choice of the princess as well as the highway. Probably both of us could convince the twins to make peace with Pandavas.
“Assuming you really meet the Lord of Avanthi. My King ASSUMING so.” Vajrabahu commented.
“My friend, would you permit me to go if I took a good portion of our army with me?” Dharmasena asked with a smile.
“And the commander of course.” Veerabahu added.
“Commander, Is the fort supposed to stay without both, the King and the commander?”
“If you have so much made your mind to go, do take Veerabahu with you, My King. And about the fort, Vajrabahu is still alive.
“In that case, I am not going along with the army, announcing my blatant distrust on Avanthi and its King. So, I shall proceed with a day’s lead towards the King’s summer retreat. Veerabahu and the remaining army shall follow me at a distance and wait at a distance too. You would be welcome to check only if there is a communication gap for more than two days. Also, I don’t want Avanthi to think that the Lord of Anagha is so scared to visit his old friend alone that he brought half his army along with him.”
Veerabahu was dismissed after some other related instructions. Before Vajrabahu left he came close to the king to whisper, “Every time you embark on something like this, danger has befallen you, friend. My instincts which have this hateful trait of coming true, don’t approve of your actions.”
“You are only paranoid for me, old friend.” Dharmasena assured with a confident smile.