“Did you enquire if the best of Shooras needed anything?” Abhaya asked of Jayanthi.
“Yes, for the sixth time today. That is after you asked him another five times. If we ask more, we would effectively be disturbing him, not attending to him.” Jayanthi replied.
“Oh you don’t understand. Gentle and righteous people do not demand much of their hosts. We have to be more insistent.” Abhaya explained. Looking at Jayanthi steady herself from what seemed like a sudden weakness, Abhaya led her to a couch. “My mistake, you are exerting too much. Rest for a while. I shall check on the cooks and then attend personally to our guests”
Not stopping for a reply, the princess made her way to the kitchen where Sundari, the old cook of her grandmother’s days was overseeing the food prepared for the evening meal.
“Grandmother, how welcome is the princess to lend a hand in preparing a dish or two?”
Sundari smiled through her wrinkled cheeks. “As long as I am not asked to eat those, you are welcome.”
“Keep taunting me. Nobody cares to teach basic womanly skills to this poor motherless child.” Abhaya retorted, looking at the dishes. The vegetable prepared was her father’s favourite. The dish had been prepared since last three days hoping that the King would return safe and sound.
“Send some food to the residence of Vajrabahu. Mahadeva knows how he is managing it. He is facing the death of his only family member and not failing to assist me in other things. We would have been lost without him.” The dying smile of Veerabahu haunted her again. Since her childhood, she had scorned him given his open hatred towards Vikram. She never trusted him after he ranted against what happened at Avanthi during Swayamvara of Mitravinda. But all along he had desired her.
To brush off the thoughts, she walked out of the kitchen to the surprise of Sundari.
Involuntarily, her legs guided her towards the guest chambers. Her mind was still thinking of an excuse to see Vaasudeva, but her legs went faster. Before she decided what she would speak, she was at the door of the room where he was accommodated.
“Salutations, Best of Shooras.”
“Do come in Princess, is there any news about the Lord of Anagha.” Vaasudeva smiled.
Abhaya shook her head. She dreaded to think about what all might have possibly happened to her father and had nightmares for days. Whenever Krishna asked her about the developments, his concern raised her hopes. She though this is the reason why she desired to meet him as frequently as she could.
“When would you like the meal served?” She asked brushing her fears again.
“After I feel I can really eat!” Krishna commented with a chuckle. “Your Sundari is obsessed with over feeding people. I thought only the women of Saurashtra were notorious for that.”
“Oh, if I told her you said this, it would encourage her to the skies!” Abhaya spoke.
“Venarable Vajrabahu said he would accompany me to check on the progress of plugging your escape tunnel pathway. Is he expected soon?”
Abhaya felt as if this was the opportunity she should grab. She instinctively replied. “He is devoted to us beyond measure. But if this thing has slipped out of his mind, I think..” Abhaya hesitated looking at Vaasudeva’s face if he sensed what was going on in her mind. But why did she feel she was making this up? She meant to be honest why did she feel she was not? “I think I do not want to remind him. Vaasudeva, you have been with us in our hardest times. Why don’t you rest for today. I shall check on the progress. My guards can accompany me. Anyways I also want to visit the temple of Mother. It has been days since I have gone there.”
“No, I would want to make sure you did not go behind wolves in that forest like you went for the crocodiles. So I am coming.” Abhaya immediately felt guilty if Vaasudeva saw through her desire that she wanted to spend as much time with him as she could. “No, this is not an excuse. This is actually my duty in the absence of my father.” She unsuccessfully tried convinced herself.
The covering of the tunnel had started from the opening in the passage of the fort near her personal chambers. It was expected that the miners complete their work by this evening so that the weakness of the fort is overcome. Abhaya and Krishna were escorted by the guards and the chief workman to the temple. Once they offered their worship to the Goddess, they proceeded leftward towards the trapdoor which had been breached by Anuvinda.
“This piece of wrist shield belonged to Commander Veerabahu. He might have dropped it before he pursued the infiltrators.” The chief workman handed the piece of iron work to the princess who received it with respect. “I can die without regrets as you are now in safe hands.”
She instinctively looked at Krishna, her eyes expressing pain. He threw her an assuring look and proceeded to talk to the workmen on closing the passage forever. A newer passage was needed. But it could wait for the return of the King.
“You are wanting to tell something, but holding it back?”
“Vaasudeva, you speak to the Kings of really big provinces. Is their expansive greed really so unquenchable? Would they ever know the pain of smaller provinces? Would they even care for the deaths their ambitions cause?”
Vaasudeva heard her outburst intently. He thought of replying and then changed his mind when he saw her opening up again and this time with increased vehemence.
“Best of Shooras, I heard that the Rajasuya was masterminded by you. Pardon me if I am impudent. But once the message of Rajasuya went around, the twin princes of Avanthi became insecure. They reacted with their own expansive plans and sought out to dominate us. They sent out a proposal which was not acceptable to my father. We had the right to reject. The result, Anuvinda sneaks into my fort and tries to take me for ransom, my father is lost in the wilderness of Avanthi. Mahadeva knows where Vikram is searching for him. My commander is dead.”
Tears, Tears! She fought them back furiously while panting for breathe.
“Are you alright?” Krishna asked after she had cooled down. When she nodded, he continued. “I am sad that your otherwise prosperous and peaceloving province had to find itself in this vortex, Princess. But it is wrong to blame the Rajasuya for it. Din’t Veerabahu confess to leaking out the details of this passage himself?”
Abhaya raised her head to protest. She then withheld herself. Vaasudeva was not her father to put up with her usual flood of queries and disagreements.
“Yes, he did leak out in some moment of weakness. I don’t deny that.” She then wondered how to absolve the chakravartin conquest of Yudhishtira.
“Vaasudeva, do you want the Pandavas to rule over Aryavarta? Because they are..” Abhaya thought it was not wise to directly accuse him of favouring relatives.
“Because they are capable of stabilizing Aryadharma all over Aryavarta.”
“Best of Shooras, would it be disrespectful on my part if I questioned that? I mean well to your cousins at Indraprastha, but…” She looked at him to make sure he was not annoyed with her insistent contentions.
“Go on. Once I sense a doubt, I prefer to quell it completely.” Krishna assured.
“As a princess of a small province, I am feeling the heat today. There would be hundreds like me, caught in the fight between two elephants and getting crushed for no mistake of theirs.”
Vaasudeva nodded. “You and those hundreds are paying for the mistakes that happened much before. I agree it is unfair. But it is inevitable, Princess.”
“Whose mistakes? Is there no solution Vaasudeva?” Abhaya wondered why she now looked at him as the sole solution provider.
“The mistakes are not necessarily be a particular person in our memory. But everyone who allowed the power get into anarchical hands is guilty of the rampant violations against Dharma today.”
Abhaya looked at him to explain more.
“Princess, A King is responsible for the wellbeing of his subjects. But have we ever wondered what that wellbeing means?”
“Safety, security, health, pleantiness?” Abhaya answered unsurely.
“Is that all?”
Krishna raised a brow in part appreciation. The discussion did flow to where he wanted it. “And what are they for?”
“To sustain the well being? – Forgive me, I am moving in circles.”
The guards started listening with rapt attention, nobody caring about the fading sunlight.
“Circles? Yes Princess. But Well being is something which encompasses a whole structure. It is a circle. It is a circle with nodes of choice points. The options would span from the most self centred to the most detached.”
“Choosing a selfish option would draw us away of this circle of well being. Choosing a better option would keep us on this circle?” Abhaya interrupted with a burst of enthusiasm, startling the other listeners.
Krishna laughed at the child like enthusiasm. “There exist a third class of options. Those that could draw us to a bigger circle of well being. Choosing a stream of those options would place us in the circle of universal well being. That which spans over the political, familial and communal boundaries. That all-encompassing circle is Arya Dharma.”
Abhaya saw new light. But this was not all that comfortable. “ I should be able to place the interests of Aryavarta above those of my subjects? Withstand the troubles and tribulations of my people for the good of all other nations? That is complying with Arya Dharma?”
“Apparently, the Lord of Anagha educates you often with related issues? I need to explicitly appreciate him for that when he returns.”
The attention of the whole group was shifted to the sound of a horse racing towards them. Abhaya realized it was much past sunset and Vajrabahu might have been worrying. The rider came from Vajrabahu.
“Your highness, The Lord has returned with Vikram and remaining army!”.