Dharmasena felt a presence beside his bed. Instinctive defences spurred him to reach out for his sword and pull the intruder to submission simultaneously.
“Abhaya! Oh Mahadeva, are you hurt child?”
“No, I am alright.. Abhaya replied still panting at the surprise. “Also kind of relieved too after finding that attacking you while you sleep is not a good idea.”
“Sit down child, But at this odd hour?”
“Forgive me for disturbing you, father. I .. I don’t want to break your sleep. You would have missed a great part of it too.”
“Rather I was made to over sleep. But now, tell me child, Is something bothering you?” Dharmasena gently pulled her to seat herself on the cot while he moved to the other side in a sitting position. He chuckled at his own question as given the issues facing them, getting sleep would be something of a surprise. Losing sleep was characteristic.
“You’re tired. You would need sleep. Can I simply sit by you Father?”
In the darkness, without bothering to order for a lamp, Dharmasena felt for where he thought his daughter’s face was and touched her cheek tenderly.
“How is your leg dear?”
“Healing quick. I can walk and stand with little pain. Fortunately no bone was broken.” Abhaya laughed.
“That was a rash act. Jumping into the moat. Dint you ever think what would happen of me if…. Mahadeva forbid, I lost you forever?”
“Wasn’t losing me forever better than me becoming your weakness to go back on your stance and honour?”
Guided by a mixture of fear as well as protectiveness, Dharmasena pulled her close to himself. Abhaya who found herself longing for her father’s long missed company lay in his lap, feeling every bit a five year old.
“But Vaasudeva came on time, when least expected. Else, I was just about to say my last prayers for…”She stopped as she felt his palm over her mouth.
“I am indebted to him. Indebted forever. May be for all the lives to come.”
Abhaya noticed an element of dissatisfaction in his tone apart from the genuine gratitude.
“Vaasudeva’s Yadava warriors also helped to drive away those Avanthi army. And you should have seen Anuvinda’s battalion. They came barging out of that cursed tunnel way with an air of some conquerors. They simply disappeared the moment the best of Shooras arrived” Dharmasena did not reply and continued to stroke her hair.
“And you should have seen the venerable Vajrabahu breaking down in his arms. He dint shed a tear over his nephew’s corpse for hours before Vaasudeva came.”
After another stretch of silence, “Father, I am surely disturbing you.”
“You have all the right to.” Dharmasena held her back as she was preparing to get up from his lap. Today his daughter felt even more precious. He knew she needed to pour her heart to him. Vague memories of his queen passed through his mind. This was the time she needed to be around. But he was alone and resolved that he could not fail his daughter.
“Being away or busy over political issues only makes you dearer to me. Never hesitate to even break my sleep if you want to talk about even the most trivial issue.”
“As if I ever hesitated.” Abhaya laughed before turning serious. “So you did not meet the Lord of Avanthi.”
“No, Mahakala forbid, but I’ve started doubting if he is dead.”
“Father, would my marriage to Anuvinda make things easier for you?”
Dharmasena shuddered at the very mention of it. Her words were innocent, yet had an overwhelming pain behind them.
Holding her with a slightly stronger grip, he asked her. “Why? Even if it made things easier for me? Would you like a life with him?”
“Do I have this luxury to think about my likes?”
“By Mahadeva and all those who he commands, you do. And when it concerns your wedded life, you MUST think about everything. The groom, the family, their ambitions and most importantly, their inclinations in the larger political scenario. Remember daughter, marital life of a princess or a Queen is never free of the political intrigues. It is always preferable to choose a groom who stands by Dharma. Life with him though is not an easy task, would give you an immense sense of fulfillment.” His voice mellowed down, sensing a servant stirring awake at the sudden raise of tone.
“Daughter, you were telling me about Vaasudeva. Where did this Anuvinda come from?” Dharmasena cheerfully changed the topic and hoped to clarify whether his guess was true.
“Yes, Vaasudeva, is he leaving tomorrow?”
“Yes, child. We have already taken much of his time. I shall invite him back in near future, hopefully for a happier occasion.” Dharmasena wondered whether it was alright to put his ideas into her mind anymore.
“It dint feel like he stayed for too long.”
“Child, who are we to him to expect him to stay with us for weeks?” Dharmasena’s voice had a teasing edge. He waited for her reaction. She did not talk any further. But he got the clarity he sought when her hand which lay tenderly on his thigh held it strong for a moment and then withdrew.
His memories went back to his first encounter with Krishna on the borders of Saurashtra. The desire had grown only stronger. It found a root in his daughter’s heart. He hoped it had.
“Is he heading back to Indraprastha?” Abhaya suddenly broke his chain of thoughts.
“More or less. He had planned a longer stay in Dwaraka, thanks to us, he could not. I think he is going to Dwaraka for a short stay and then going back to Indraprastha.”
He felt his garments upper garment on which she rested her head become moist. As his hand moved towards her eyes, she caught it for a brief moment as if to wipe her tears before he could sense it.
“If tears give you relief of any sort, cry out while it is dark, daughter. By all Gods, I don’t know if I can stand the sight of your tear stained face.”
“No, father, I only missed talking to you so much that…”
I forgive you for this lie.Dharmasena smiled to himself.
“So you wont agree to relinquish your control on the highway and keep it safe for…. For the yadavas and Pandavas communicate in an unhindered manner.” Abhaya asked, trying to appear more cheerful.
“Yes, I have given my word for Vaasudeva and I would stand by it.”
“What if Avanthi and other allies swoop on us? I know we won’t be able to stand them off for more than a week even if we include the nagas.”
“We would defend the highway to our last breathe.” Dharmasena spoke decisively.
“What about the innocent civilians?” Abhaya asked.
“Well, if a decisive war is imminent, I shall give them a choice to leave the city and migrate to relatively safer places. Only those who are ready to die for my word shall remain.”
“Why do you do this father?”
“Child, till recent times Avanthi respected our autonomy because of the gentle old King. Greed and insecurity have got his sons to seek out dominion over us. This would be the case with all the smaller janapadas all over Aryavarta. To keep the sel centred interests in check, we need a strong empire in place. We need a just and able chakravartin to whom the whole community of Kings would swear their allegiance.”
Abhaya nodded asking him to continue.
“This campaign of Rajasuya seeks to establish such an empire. Daughter, I am convinced of the greater good that would ensue. So, I stand by my word and am proud to do it.”
“This is Arya Dharma!” Abhaya concluded.
“Father you have the choice to marry me to Anuvinda and ensure your safety. You chose otherwise. You could likewise surrender them the highway and continue to negotiate a part of the trade taxes which is again a safer bet for ourselves and our subjects. Instead you chose to keep the interests of Aryavarta above those of your province.”
“Yes, we are Kshatriyas who should spill their blood for the greater good. So?”
“Father, Vaasudeva was explaining this circle of wellbeing that transcend political, familial and communal boundaries. That is Aryadharma which assures the sustenance and balance of this universe at all levels. I am so proud to see you shining in that circle. I am so proud to be your daughter.”
Dharmasena needed no more confirmations “Fine, go to sleep now.” Dharmasena replied in part amusement and moved his fingers over her temples in repetitive curves. This had always put her to sleep.
“Tomorrow before Vaasudeva leaves, you shall see yourself as the half of the man who we hope keeps this circle of wellbeing in place.” He promised in his thoughts.