Dharmasena entered the temple of Anagheshwari for the customary weekly worship. After the worship he turned towards the people in the settlement to enquire about their well being. He noticed a lone person who seemed like he did not belong to the settlement. The stranger removed his cloak.
“Anuvinda?” Dharmasena’s body guards drew out their swords.
“I have come unarmed, King.”
Dharmasena stopped his guards and looked at him questioningly.
“I.. I apologise for what happened, My King.”
“You’ve come all the way alone and unarmed to say that?”
“Not just that. I also came to advice you on behalf of my father to keep yourself away from the dangerous path you’ve taken.”
“So, I should take your father’s ‘advice’ while he never finds time to meet me when I came in person.”
Anuvinda ignored the remark. “It is upto you to believe or listen. But take this from me. The forces of Vidarbha , Avanthi and Chedi would throw their weight against Sahadeva’s campaign. We would anyway take over the highway.”
Dharmasena looked back unperturbed. “And telling me this would help you?”
Anuvinda smiled back. ”Telling you does not harm us in any way. But my father in his last days, wishes that his old friend is safe.”
Dharmasena grew grave with concern. “Let us sit by the courtyard.” He called Anuvinda. They entered back the temple and seated themselves on the stone benches.
“Tell me about His Majesty.” Dharmasena asked in a softened tone.
“He was down with a disease. If you are thinking that Vinda or me have done something to him, we haven’t/ Yes we have a lot of poits where Vinda and I blatantly differ with him. Ad things in Avanthi would obviously continue as per our choices.” Anuvinda seemed to retort, but his eyes showed dispassion.
“I shall pray that he recovers soon.” Dharmasena replied meaningfully.
“You are Noble. But that would still not change the future course of events, Lord of Anagha. I sincerely insist that you make things easy for yourself by just staying neutral.”
“Is there anything else?”
Anuvinda lifted his head to say something and decided against it. “Grant me leave, My King. I hope good sense prevails.”
Dharmasena smiled at the retreating figure. “I never thought giving birth to a daughter would make me so important. It is completely strange that having the enemy seek her helps in ways. I know what they are upto now.
On his way back, he remembered Vaasudeva’s recent message that Queen Subhadra would want to take Abhaya to Indraprastha till the Conquest in the region ends.
“Does he care for her? Or… Whatever are his intentions, I need to consider his thoughts.”
A mixture of emotions enveloped him as he rode through his small city to his palace. It would only be a matter of time before this very land would be rampaged.
He entered Abhaya’s chambers where Vikram was trying his best to get her interested in state affairs. She had withdrawn herself from everything ever since Vaasudeva left after refusing her hand. Dharmasena had hoped she would recover with time. He explained to them, Vaasudeva’s message.
“Well, thank Queen Subhadra for her generosity. But I am neither an orphan nor a refugee.”
“Who is Vaasudeva to think that I am safer when I am away from my father? And why would I want to leave his side when he needs me?”
“Princess, I want you to go.”
“Father. I prefer to die by your side rather than…”
“Death does not achieve anything. By Mahadeva, I want you to live and rebuild Anagha.”
Abhaya looked up alarmed. “Rebuild?”
Dharmasena explained about the planned moves by the southern empires. “Face it. This fort, this city and everything is going to be razed to ground. I do not trust the ethical standards of the Bhojas and the Chaidyas.”
“Father, can we resort to any other tactful measure?” Abhaya asked.
“Not anything that I can think of. But a confrontation is imminent; We have to choose between laying back and giving them a free pass or stopping them. I can’t do the first.”
Abhaya sank to her seat. “Standing by our word is so hard a thing. Who dreamt that Avanthi would look at devouring us?”
Then she looked up pleadingly. “Father, I don’t want to go.”
Dharmasena walked up to the seat beside hers and took her close. “Abhaya, these are testing times. Precisely the period where we should show strength, not weakness. Aren’t you a Kshatrani, who would get exhilarated at facing challenges and overcoming them? “
“Then why am I told to run away?”
“Sometimes running away helps us to fight back another day with increased strength. One battle does not end a war, Abhaya. One setback should not mean a defeat.” Dharmasena looked at her meaningfully.
Abhaya sensed the meaning behind his words. “When am I supposed to leave?”
“In about eight days from now. We shall host Queen Subhadra and Yadavas for a night. You accompany them next morning.”
Abhaya stared at the ground in mute assent.
“Your friendship with the younger queen of Indraprastha is quite valuable. This is a good opportunity Abhaya. Make sure of grabbing it. I won’t tell you anything further, child. “
Abhaya forced herself a smile when her father offered to sharpen her sword himself. After he left, she fell back on the couch.
“Reject me when I approach you, haunt me when I want to forget you and pull me back when I want to get over you! Take a bow, Vaasudeva all the pleasure and pain….and more pain.”