Dharmasena had reached the Summer rest house of the Lord of Avanthi without any hassles. Veerabahu and the bulk of army stayed back right at the borders and he had proceeded with a minimum number of bodyguards. The smooth journey made him laugh at the apprehensions his people had when he was leaving. He knew they all loved him. They feared for him to paranoid levels. He too had a kind of fear in his heart and due to that he wanted Vikram to stay back. Yes If some danger was to actually befell him he did not want Vikram in the way. But the foolish boy never cared to think beyond his heart. Dharmasena missed him before he left Anagha. Well, he would go back and console him for what all he had shouted in exasperation.
Dharmasena reached the entrance of the Summer palace and was duly received by the officials of Avanthi. As he had reached only by dusk, his hosts led him and his body guards to refresh themselves and partake dinner.
“Could I meet His Majesty first?” He enquired with the officer who attended to him.
“Lord, forgive us. His Majesty’s illness got worse today morning. The Vaidya attended to him and he had to be put to sleep.”
Dharmasena sounded disappointed and concerned. “Your King is my friend since our days at the Ashram of Gurudeva. It is my minimum courtesy to see him once before I can eat.”
“Your courtesy is undoubted Lord.” The official assured him. “But none of us knew that My King would fall so sick on this very day. Thevaidyawas insistent on sedating him, lest he gets worse. We are now hopeful that he would be healthy enough to talk to you in the morning.”
“I am still not sure how appropriate this looks.” Dharmasena commented thoughtfully.
“His Majesty invited you himself, Lord of Anagha. We won’t disappoint you. But I pray, kindly bear with us for tonight.”
Dharmasena did not find it wise to pull the matter much and retired for the day. Yes, considering the issues at hand, he welcomed a good night’s sleep before he met Kind Jayasena. Little did he know the plans Avanthi had in store. Little did he know about the trap laid not only for him but for the whole of Anagha which was left without its King, Commander and the heir prince in the fort. He knew as little as he knew about the slow sedative mixed in the food that was served to him and his body guards.
When he awoke, Dharmasena found himself in darkness. He groped to sense his surroundings. He was on a soft bed, but laid on the floor. Where was the decorated cot he lay upon last night? Is it night or day? Mahadeva, why was it so dark? He remembered a window beside his cot. He was shifted during sleep! As he stood up with a start his head felt heavy. Then it struck him that he was drugged, probably abducted and imprisoned! Why why why?
The drug was slow to wear off and he did not realize himself giving into sleep again. When he woke up again after he dint know how long after, he felt much better in his head. His sword was nowhere to be found. Yes it would be unnatural to expect that his captors would leave him the weapon.
He cautiously made his way around the dark room and came upon something looking like a door. But it was too low, probably enough for a small man to crawl through. How was he brought in there? Surely not by that door. But the rest of the walls dint seem to have anything else.
Dharmasena exerted all his restraint to plan his next move for anger or any unthought reaction would not help much. Worse, it might spoil things even more. Gathering his breathe, he knocked at the wooden door fastened from outside. There was no reply from the other side. He groped aroun the door and found something sliding. It was a small window which he slided open which flooded the sunlight into the room. He sensed that it might be midday. In the light, he saw a plate duly served with food. Hunger seized him. But now he was not going to eat anything especially after he was drugged last night.
He ignored the food and continued to knock at the door.
“Your commands? My King?” he heard a sarcastically humble voice from outside. He could not recognize the speaker. It was not either of the twins. Given a chance, Dharmasena would have swooped down on that person and strangled him with bare hands. But now was not the time for anger.
“Care to explain what went on? Not that I expect anything good from you. But we can start with you explaining.” Dharmasena tried hard to control his anger which usually turned into satire when not expressed.
“With pleasure,Lord. But I would not prefer to talk to a man who is starving since two days. So please have your food. We can still see your plate untouched.”
“Two days?” Dharmasena exclaimed! He was sedated for more than a night! “By Mahadeva, if I don’t raze this city to ground!....”
“Yes, you seemed like needing a good sleep after all.” The voice jeered. “Do please have your lunch. We have all the time to talk to you.”
“Oh thank you! Your hospitality in unmatched! So for how many more days will this put me to sleep? A week? Or a Month?”
“Oh, Don’t worry, Lord. We are also waiting to talk to you. The food is not drugged.” The person seemed to be chuckling with pleasure.
“Dharma, you need to save on energy. Don’t lose heart and even if you have already lost, let them not know it.” He told himself.
He chose not to call back the person after eating and waited for him to check instead.
“You are a lion after all. You don’t call upon lesser mortals, Do you Lord?”
Dharmasena took a deep breath and clenched his wrists. As moments passed, he felt his chest would burst of the anger he had been trying to control. He closed his eyes and convinced himself again that if his captors were enjoying his discomfort, he wont let them feel so. He decided to play the game
“Oh Yes, I had come to talk to the King. And you’re right. A lesser mortal has no place in my task here. So call your King. I refuse to talk to anyone else.”
He heard a laughter. “I really admire you Lord. Do as you please. I am sure you would soon change your mind. That is once….” Silence ensued. Dharmasena stopped himself from asking what the speaker meant.
“Enjoy your time here, Lord of Anagha.” As he was speaking, Dharmasena saw another trapdoor open from above. The voice continued. “We have taken all pains in preparing for your stay. Feel free to explore this new temporary residence of yours. You won’t find anything lacking I am sure. We don’t want our future Queen Abhaya Devi to complain about any mistreatment meted out to you.”
“Dare he take her name? Mahakaala, Have I not been a just ruler? Is this what happens to the righteous people in your Kshetra of Avanthi?”
Noticing the trap door and way up, Dharmasena rushed to look for any possible ways to escape. He climbed up that dungeon and found himself in a spacious home that did not look any bit like the guest house he visited two nights back. It did not have any doors. Only small holes at the higher side of the walls to allow some ventilation. There were a cook and another female attendant who went about doing everything to make him comfortable. But they never spoke a word. They never even looked eye to eye with him.
After two more days, Dharmasena felt he would go mad if he continues in the same captive life. He thought hard. His ‘hosts’ had not compromised in providing him, Royal food. They must be replenishing the supplied through some door. And there has to be some entrance to this whole place.
He hit upon an idea and ordered for more food to accelerate the usage of supplies. He pretended to fall ill and asked for rare concoctions for which he hoped they lacked the supplies.
The next day, he heard the cook frantically searching for something in kitchen. He looked for the maid who was busy in making his bed. Finding her out of the way he crept into kitchen and found the cook gropping for something under the huge iron shelf that served as storage. His heart gave a leap on seeing the cook remove something like a lid to a tunnel and slide in. When he did not return after a couple of minutes, Dharmasena was sure that therewas some underground path to outside.
To make sure that there was no alarm raised, He went quietly back to his bed taking one of the heavy objects in the kitchen. He called the maid on some pretext and asked for something. When she turned back, she felt a blow which made her world go black and wordlessly fell to the ground.
“Forgive me, lady. By Mahakala, I accept any results of this unmanly act of attacking a woman from behind. But I had no other choice.”
Dharmasena quickly made his way to the tunnel passage from the kitchen. He walked through it for around an hour or so, before it widened into something that looked like a cave.
“By Mahadeva, whoever envisaged this structure has indeed done a great job, though for wrong people.”
As he stepped out of the cave, Dharmasena encountered three burly guards. They did not seem like trained soldiers, but their brute appearance was enough to scare a commoner out of his wits. They were armed with crude clubs.
“Robbers. Who are hired by the twins.” Dharmasena realized as he backed at the prospect of facing three brutal robbers while being unarmed.
One of them let out a shout and leapt at him with the club raised. Dharmasena nimbly moved aside at the nick of the moment and caught the man’s hand which was holding the club and wrenched the weapon out with a deft blow. Before the other two jumped to help their comrade, he shoved the first man back to block their way.
Without wasting any time, he got hold of the club that was lying down and took on the second man. The bout continued for a while but it was difficult for Dharmasena to keep three men at a bay especially after the adventure.
In the course of the fight, Dharmasena ost his balance and fell to the ground, but did not lose his grip over the club. To avoid being hit by one of the oppponent’s clubs, he rolled aside, but his move apparently was miscalculated. The blow would be upon him.
At the moment, the club fell out of the robber’s hands. Dharmasena saw him being stabbed on the side from behind.
It was not long before the other two were overpowered by the Naga warrior who accompanied Vikram.
“My Lord. Are you alright?”
“Vikram, how did you find me?”
“Oh, my Naga blood also happens to know about the secret lairs of robbers in the forests.” Vikram retorted in humour.
“You are in a mood for jokes aren’t you?” Dharmasena pulled Vikram’s ear as a surge of emotions overtook him. “Son, forgive me. I really uttered words of venom which….” The words were left incomplete as Vikram threw his arms around Dharmasena who returned the embrace.