It was almost midday before Abhaya was woken up by a hesitating Jayanthi.
“The sun has reached the high skies! Why didn’t you wake me before?” Abhaya almost jumped out of her bed forgetting her injured leg. As the pain erupted at the sudden weight, She sank back to bed with a groan.
“For whatever happened in the night I dint have the heart to wake you at all, princess. But I had to, we have a bad news.” Jayanthi spoke, supporting Abhaya to get on to her feet slowly and proceeding to make the bed.
“Bad news has become a routine here. Mahadeva save us. Tell me what is it?” Abhaya replied, still feeling weary about the last night’s struggle.
“Our commander succumbed to his injuries.”
“What? Mahadeva take pity! When did this take place?”
“I think just past sunrise. Thevaidyatried his best. But..”
“Where is Venerable Vajrabahu?” Abhaya asked, still trying to sink in the news.
“In his chambers. He is broken hearted.” Jayanthi explained her face void of any expression.
“I have to see him. Help me get till there. Call the carriage.” Abhaya instructed moving to dress appropriately. She added with a start. “Where are the Yadava guests housed? Are they being attended to?”
“Yes Your Highness, I have supervised all the arrangements myself and had checked on the honourable Vaasudeva before I came to you.” She saw Abhaya looking at her as if waiting for more. “He was preparing to rush to Venerable Vajrabahu’s residence when he heard the news.”
Abhaya’s eyes grew wide in disbelief as well as reverence. She silently proceeded to dress appropriately for mourning. The last looks of Veerabahu haunted her. She realized that satisfaction in his eyes, the satisfaction of having sacrificed for his love. His smile had the blessing of a dying lover. She felt her head reeling at the memory.
After the carriage came, Abhaya was escorted with Jayanthi and a couple of other female attendants to Vajrabahu’s residence. She shuddered at the memory of Veerabahu’s last words. Brushing it with a prayer, she entered in.
An expressionless Vajrabahu sat near his nephew’s corpse, caressing Veerabahu’s head. There were no tears in his eyes. He cared not for those who came to console him. When Abhaya announced herself, He slowly stood up.
“Princess, You are mourning? Are you mourning my nephew’s death? Why? He died a warrior’s death. He made me proud. I want all of us to celebrate, not mourn.”
“Uncle,” Abhaya replied, her heart feeling heavy and a lump forming down her throat. “ He died because we were outnumbered, deceived and cornered. He did not deserve this death. And he was unarmed!” Abhaya exclaimed, remembering that Veerabahu had thrown her his word to fight off the crocodiles.”
“They wounded an unarmed man! Those butchers from Avanthi! And the cowards ran away as soon as the Yadava host came in.” she was panting for short of breathe.
“So, child, he has still made me proud. We won’t mourn his death. We won’t. I pray you not to insult him by coming here in tears, dressed in white.” Vajrabahu’s voice seemed weakened, but his eyes still sparkled with the pride of a warrior and the face did not flex with any disturbance.
“A hero deserves his rightful respect too, Venerable Vajrabahu.” Vaasudeva entered with another of his companions.
“Best of Yadavas. You went without sleep whole of the night! Why did you take the trouble?” Vajrabahu rushed to receive him despite his crippled leg.
Vaasudeva hurried forward and caught him as he faltered in his steps.
“I think I dint even thank you properly for saving my fort and my princess.” Vajrabahu’s voice started to break.
Krishna simply held him in his arms and held him close to his chest. The old lion of Anagha broke down like a child in the embrace. Vaasudeva held him all along as he relentlessly sobbed his heart out.
It was a touching moment for everyone present there. Abhaya took her palms to her face to suppress her sobs. Vajrabahu weeping was an unimaginable thing. But if he had continued in the same mood as he was before Vaasudeva’s arrival, she would have been overcome with concern.
The teary eyedVaidyaapproached the princess. “I tried my best, Your Highness. But the God of Gods willed otherwise.” She acknowledged silently.
She then turned to Jayanthi, remembering that the latter was with child. “You must not linger here, Jayanthi. Go back to the palace. I shall return after the needful has been done.”
“You too must leave now, Princess. There is not much that women can do in the rites now. You should also look into the hospitality for the Yadava guests. Also send for any information we can gather about the whereabouts of His Majesty and Vikram.” Vajrabahu spoke recovering from his sorrow.
Abhaya was reluctant to leave him, but he was right. There were many things needing her immediate attention now. Her father and Vikram still needed to be traced. And the benefactors from the west should not be shown an entirely broken system inside.
Her eyes glowed with new found reverence for Vaasudeva as she looked at him before leaving.
“Could you ever imagine that Venerable Vajrabahu woul break into such shaking sobs?” Jayanthi spoke after they started back to the palace.
“Not in my wildest dreams. But Veerabahu was all he had. Now he is all alone, thanks to his loyalty for my family.” Abhaya replied, lost in thoughts. Her mind wondered what lay in Vaasudeva’s presence that could melt an iron heart like that of Vajrabahu and make him a child.
“Vaasudeva, I can only imagine as to how we can ever repay him.”