The next morning saw Abhaya running around in her chamber over multiple things. She complained about her garments. Something looked too bright on her and something looked too dull. Something else did not really have a matching upper garment. Above all, her wavy hairs were not settling in spite of patient grooming. The kohl made her eyes look abnormally bright. Groaning, she told Jayanthi to help her with a washing bowl. As she looked at herself in the mirror, she felt that the pearl string looked odd on her red upper garment.
“Why in the name of Mahakaala are you so fussy today?” Jayanthi rebuked her in part annoyance. Usually she used to unsuccessfully argue with her princess about her dress and jewels and the latter was never interested on the topic.
Abhaya got used to moving about in mostly manly clothing which allowed her to ride and practice on sword and an upper tunic. With the Naga training campaign, she had lost the practice of wearing feminine jewelry.
“I am lost! I look so bad! Jayanthi, do something. Take a look at mother’s shawls, we might have a yellow one that matches my skirt. The pearls might go with it better. Jayanthi, are you hearing?”
“My princess, listen to me. “ Jayanthi held the hysterical princess. “He has been seeing you since more than a week. Don’t you want him to feel you as yourself? He should not mistake you for someone else.”
Abhaya looked at her in increased confusion. “So what do I do now?”
“Pray, leave it to me. I found this crimson shawl. Drape this.”
“No, this makes me look like a sadhvi from a forest!!” Abhaya stopped as Jayanthi threw a forbidding glance.
After adjusting the dress and jewelry during which Jayanthi got the opportunity of her life to lecture on personal grooming, she proceeded to set right the wavy and disobedient hairs.
“Princess, all these days, you were quite a chatter box. So if you suddenly quieten down and not speak, he would feel really uneasy. Be yourself.”
“Jayanthi, what if I talk something that is inappropriate?”
“If you haven’t spoken anything inappropriate to him the last ten days, you won’t do it today. By Mahakaala couldn’t you wait for me to apply the kohl?”
“So do I look good enough? Now, If you flatter me, I promise you you’ll never see me wilder!”
“Abhaya,” cautioned Jayanthi, hoping to use the authority of a sixteen year old bonding. “My princess, did he see how attractive your face is before saving you from the crocodile? Did he look at your eyes or hair before participating in Veerabahu’s funeral or in assisting with that tunnel plugging work? Did he take a personal interest in this fort because he thought you are beautiful?”
Jayanthi took Abhaya to her bosom. “Men who like us for what we are are rather than what we can become for them make better partners.”
“It is easy for you to say so. Don’t you remember his wives, Princesses Bhadra and Lakshana at Dwaraka? Their exquisite complexion and their glowing skin..”
“You should have thought about your complexion and skin texture before going to those Naga settlements in sun and rain! Now don’t get me started again.” Jayanthi resigned. She ran to the wardrobe and fished out a pair of ear rings. “Lakshana and Bhadra might shame all the apsaras. But no one can be Abhaya. Come let us go and hopefully see him before he sets off.”
The girls entered the corridor leading to the courtroom where Dharmasena was speaking to Vaasudeva. Abhaya halted in her footsteps and peeped through the artistic ventilation holes.
“I am not going in there.” She told Jayanthi.
“By the trident of Mahadeva, did you cause that mini cyclone in your chambers and made me run around just to hide now? The King is surely looking for you. Go now.”
“No no, be quiet. I want to hear what they talk before I go in.”
“What else can I say Vaasudeva! You saved my everything. How could I ever repay..”
“Lord of Anagha, now you are embarrassing me. Remember, our friendship started years back when your nobleself looked after the lost Yadavas during our migration to Dwaraka. In fact I am so happy that my presence helped.”
“You seem to find it easy to turn down credit, Vaasudeva. But I can’t let you go before I can really offer my gratitude in a proper way.” Dharmasena got up from his seat and walked towards Krishna. He took Krishna’s hands in his own.
“Best of Shooras, savior of my daughter’s life, do accept her as a wife.”
Krishna’s smile faded at the sudden proposal as his mind thought of various things. Dharmasena continued. “And with her, I would be happier to place…. “ Dharmasena glanced at Vikram at the other end of the courtroom and the latter nodded in assurance. Dharmasena continued. “to place this humble province of mine at your disposal.”
“Lord of Anagha, Pray, take your seat.” Krishna led him half way to the throne ans sat by the seat which was closer to the throne.
All what he knew of Abhaya flooded his mind. The ten year old, trying incessantly to catch a gripp on a sword, an indulgent fifteen year old who delivered Mitravinda’s letter to him braving all the intrigues and the same maiden who had once dreamt of marrying an eka patnivrata. He remembered the precarious position of the Yadavas and Pandavas as the campaigns for Rajasuya were to begin. Was Dwaraka prepared to invite a new bride with the same fervor? Above all, how can the noble King offer the hand of his daughter just as a token of gratitude? Did he speak to her. The bond between this father and daughter was strong. Krishna had witnessed it. He would have sought her mind. But then Abhaya herself might have given in purely out of gratitude. Can he, Krishna Vaasudeva in his conscious mind accept a maiden who sought him out while being swept by his good turns? She could consider her life a barter for what he did. But he cannot do the same.
Abhaya who was peeping from the side of the courtroom almost fainted of excitement. “Father knew my heart!!!”. She waited with bated breath for Krishna’s reply.
Krishna smiled assuringly. “My King, forgive me. But I cannot accept the hand of the Princess.
Dharmasena did not expect such a quick and decisive response and in that, a rejection. He looked at Vikram who looked equally baffled.
“I know, my province is not as influential as Kekaya or Vidarbha.,,”
“Lord of Anagha, please… I never meant to compare you with my fathers in law. And to speak of those you just mentioned, your support of late has been more valuable than theirs.”
Dharmasena found words failing him. He mustered his wits and made himself speak. “My daughter is motherless but I…”
“No my King, never in your wildest dreams, think that I found any flaw in your daughter.” Krishna interrupted before Dharmasena finished his sentence.
Krishna let out a deep breathe and extended his arm to hold Dharmasena’s. “Lord of Anagha, I Krishna Vaasudeva reiterate my stand. We, Yadavas shall remain your friends in every sense. Even without any alliance to bind us. We are proud to have you as our ally, Lord. We shall meet again in happier times. Now grant me leave.”
Abhaya who heard it all froze in her place. Her downcast eyes were left intently looking at something she did not care. Jayanthi who also heard what transpired, held her arm protectively, gently, leading her back to the inner chambers.
The girls momentarily passed through the entrance of the courtroom where they faced Vaasudeva.
“Ahh princess, I am glad you came to see me before I left.”
“Glad I came to see you?”She glanced at him without flexing a muscle of her face but words did not come out of her lips.
“How is your leg now? Healed?”
Abhaya nodded wordlessly, Her eyes fixed on his eyes. Her gaze continued to hide all emotions. Emotions for most of their part, seemed dead.
“Good, I shall be able to tell Mitra that you are well and walking and running around as you did when she saw you.”
“Tell Mitra? Yes, tell her that you saved my life from the crocodiles only to throw it into the sea of misery. You tended to my leg, but are not bothered about my heart that lay at your feet, now broken at rejection.
“Be well, princess. You are a daughter who made your father proud.” He lay his right hand on her head. She shivered at the touch and instantly knelt to touch his feet. He prevented her midway by holding her shoulder. He touched her. But why was his hand so devoid of passion? Why did the touch seem so detached? What is he made of? Stone? Diamond? Is there a harder substance in this universe?
Abhaya saw her father who had now recovered from his reverie and had hurried to see his guest till the gates of the fort. His face regained the Royal equanimity as he walked Krishna towards the end of the corridor.
A concerned Vikram stayed back with the girls finding himself at loss for words. A stupefied Jayanthi stood not knowing what to do. She looked at the princess who seemed dead in her movements.
Without uttering a word, Abhaya unfastened the pealrstring around her neck and gave it to her. She followed her father and Vaasudeva and made her way to the terrace where she saw him mounting his chariot. The chariot she was placed in by Him. She looked at the moat and the reptiles.
“Wretched beasts could not even wake up in time to grab your food. Now look on, he who has come pulled me away from your jaws has pushed me into the depths of I don’t know where, he who has plugged the hole in my fort, but drilled a dent in my heart departs. He departs to make my life seem worthless.