Veerabahu stepped out of his camping at the Southwestern borders of Avanthi. His contingent had not crossed the borders at the orders of Dharmasena who had proceeded alone except for his bodyguards towards the Summer retreat of Avanthi where the old King was resting. Five agile horsemen had followed the King and stationed themselves along the way to keep a watch as well as raise an alarm if necessary.
Veerabahu had thought over the plan again and again to plug any possible loopholes. He was surprised at his own restlessness. Do whatever he might, a strange feeling of restlessness took over him. It was not quenched with any amount of deliberation and further steps to protect the King. The commander of Anagha convinced himself that it was his own shock and anger over the princes of Avanthi. The honey tipped daggers!
He remembered his meeting Vinda during the swayamvara of the princess of Avanthi. The elder prince had received him with utmost honour, pampered him with lavish hospitality that was otherwise only extended to the suitors. He was invited for the banquet they threw, the night before the Swayamvara where the wine he drank got better of him. In his weak moments he had ranted about his destiny as opposed to that of Vikram. He might have probably had derided his King too in the drunken state. Veerabahu found his tongue turn bitter at the very memory.
It was the same Vinda who put the thought into his mind that the future husband of the princess shall rule over Anagha, directly encouraging him to consider Abhaya. He was foolish enough to believe and entertain his hopes. The princess had never liked him even since childhood. In the last couple of years he had tried his best to get into the good books of the king, expecting something to happen. Now the proposal from Avanthi seemed like a backstab, a mockery of his hopes. A sudden thought struck him that made his head reel. Did the princes of Avanthi, use his displeasure , prod him just to know the inside information? Yes they are very much capable of that. And he simply took leave of his senses and played into their game, into their hands!
“Escape tunnel from the Western fort to Anagheshwari temple!” He remembered in a flash leaking this out in that drunken brawl. He remembered that the princes while generously offering wine to the guests had remained sober. “No! By Mahakala, I couldn’t have done that! No, that damned tunnel opens directly into the corridor overlooking the chamber of the princess!”
He jumped as if stung by a cobra at the realization. Without any further thought, he called his trusted aide inside his tent.
After an hour or so, a lone rider, the aide, left the camp on the fastest of steeds. Soldiers were informed that he went carrying an update to Anagha. The rider wasted no time in rushing towards small detour which cut towards the other side of the fort of Anagha. Veerabahu hoped nobody would notice him dressed as a simple aide.
“Curse you Vikram, where are you when you are the most needed!” he grumbled to himself. Before the whole retinue left Anagha, he was told by his uncle that Vikram had left the fort after a difference of opinion with the King. He wondered what would have caused the King to send his adopted son whom he loved so much away from the fort in such a crisis.
As Veerabahu by passed the route towards the Eastern towers of Anagha, he was shocked to see the path trampled as if a herd of elephants had passed the way. Concerned he took followed the path to some distance and spotted a deserted camp with a couple of broken lances and swords fallen to the ground.
“Mahakaala forbid so! Is Anagha under attack? When its King and commander and its make believe adopted prince or whatever he is are all away?” He shuddered at the thought. Following moments saw him in a huge dilemma to whether raise an alarm to the soldiers, follow up with a attacking group and investigate or rush towards the other end and save the princess.
“Yes, the princess must be saved! Coming away from the camp by violating the King’s orders, I better have a strong cause and a stronger result! Curse the twins, Curse who ever are with them. Curse all!”
It was late night by the time he reached the outskrirts of the small settlement where the temple of Anagheshwari stood. The sight further distressed him, Women and children huddled in a hut that was locked from outside started screaming for help as soon as they saw a lone rider bearing the insignia of Anagha.
He rushed to open the door of the hut by shattering the lock and released them. Still overcome by fear they explained in broken Arya tongue about what happened. Before Veerabahu could make sense of what was happening, he saw a familiar figure approach the settlement looking rather worn out and even injured, but nonetheless determined.
“Welcome my future Liege, Quite available in the hour of need.” He shouted in part relief and part sarcasm.
“Save your irony, Commander, Mahakaala knows where all I have been to in the past four days! And what on earth are you doing here? Weren’t you supposed to go with the King.” Vikram replied, panting and quite out of breathe.
“Avanthi is managed to hound us in all directions well. They mislead the king and half the army away in the pretext of talks. Then they attack the poorly defended fort and now, thanks to the wine, I fear they have breached this escape tunnel.” Veerabahu rushed inside the temple to check out with Vikram running behind despite his weariness.
“Yama be upon them! Vikram, the tunnel has been breached!”
“Wonderful job Veerabahu! Can you spare me a sword?”
“I just brought mine. Besides its not wise that both of us rush into what might seem like sure death!” Veerabahu thought fast, his disappointment mounting.
“You’re right. Lend me your sword and head back to the King and the rest of the army, I shall see what can be done inside! Divine Mother, Protect the princess!”
“I shall lend you my horse instead. You go and bring back the army with the King. This thing is my war, my wrong to atone for. The King deserves to know what happened behind him.” Veerabahu was blindly adamant. Without leaving Vikram a chance to argue he jumped on to the entrance of the tunnel and was gone in a couple of moments.
He ran along the whole distance fervently praying, cursing and hoping. Vikram had been good enough to follow what he had indicated. Bless him! Probably for the first time. Veerabahu reached the end of the tunnel and stopped before he could open the trap door. He waited to hear any sounds that might alert whoever is present on the corridor. Catching his breathe and planning his move carefully He drew his sword and pushed the latch. As the trapdoor gave way he swooped into the corridor noiselessly. The corridor was deserted. A couple of broken vases and lamps told him something had taken place. Curse them whoever has meant harm! He heard a noise towards the western entrance and rushed towards it as noiselessly as he could.
He saw some unfamiliar soldiers moving towards the passage to the western fort tower. Whoever they were, they meant no good. In the light of another lamp at the corner he made out they were from Avanthi. “God of Gods! That is the princess with them? Mahakala, save her. And that is that cunning fox, Anuvinda holding her arm almost twisting it. “
Veerabahu’s blood boiled at the sight. He reached for a lance that was hung to the wall and gave a blood curling war cry challenging those ahead to stop before aiming it straight at Anuvinda. The roar took the soldiers of Avanthi unawares and Anuvinda ducked to escape the lance, leaving the hand of Abhaya for a moment. In a flash, she moved across to the wall, ad reached out for a heavy object, mostly a vase and hit it with all her strength on the nearest of the soldiers who surrounded her. The circle got shattered and Veerabahu pounced on one of them and drove his sword into his chest. Abhaya looked around for Jayanthi and did not find her around. The clever girl would have slipped to inform Vajrabahu on the other side of the fort. Yes there would be help soon!
Anuvinda recovered and drew his sword. He directly attacked Veerabahu along with another two soldiers. Abhaya reached out for the nearest dagger she could and with a swift move, stabbed the soldier who advanced towards her. His cry of pain rented through the air. Blood gushed out of his wound before Abhaya could retrieve the blade from his body. She had followed Vikram’s lessons on the vital organ’s of a man’s body and hit the soldier’s unguarded parts. As he lay dying, she stood paralysed and shocked at the sight of death. Her first kill! Something exhilarated the warrior in her. But stronger was the feeling of guilt for the soldier had only attempted to restrain her and not wound her, but she had killed him!
Anuvinda took advantage of her daze. He let out a low grunt following which, four of the remaining soldiers launched themselves onto Veerabahu who valiantly held them at bay. But it was enough for Anuvinda to reach to Abhaya again. Abhaya pointed the dagger dripping with blood at him, her eyes, now red with the rage of a fighter.
She knew she was disadvantaged because of her small dagger against the long sword of Anuvinda. But desparately fought to keep him off her while moving towards the terrace where four more soldiers of Avanthi joined to support their prince. Abhaya stumbled over a dead guard, temporarily losing her balance. She rolled over towards the western tower to escape Anuvinda’s menacingly advancing sword.
“That son of a Naga has taught you well. But I am trained by the one who taught the one who taught Vikram. Princess, stop being foolish now.”
Veerabahu by then had killed two soldiers and still had six more to stave off before reaching to Anuvinda. But he continued to advance despite being wounded. A couple of guards came to assist him, but they were not fully trained soldiers inducted into army.
On the other end of the terrace of the fort, Abhaya frantically fought off Anuvinda. Her hand now gave into exhaustion and her grip began to weaken. She further backed to gain some breathe and also hoping for some respite.