“There is some change in you! And I don’t like it.” Subhadra snapped at Abhaya almost causing the palanquin which bore them to shake.
Abhaya looked at her indignant face. “Go and ask your brother”. The words rang in her mind. She held her lips from slipping them out. “Nothing, Queen.”
“Queen! For the hundredth time since yesterday, tolerating your horrible memory, my name is Subhadra. Save all your formal behavior for the actual Queen, Draupadi.”
Abhaya did not answer, but forced out a smile. Yes, it was not good to stay so artificially formal with this bubbly lady who had been a great friend.
“Mitra had a message for you. It said –Don’t lose heart, my boat man does not forsake the ones in need. And my boat has not shrunk in size.
Abhaya looked up, her eyes brightening for a couple of moments before she resigned back. “Thank you Subhadra.”
Subhadra was silent for a while. She then took Abhaya’s right hand, squeezing it. “Abhaya, my brother told me you are so good at writing financial records. Would.. you mind helping me out at Indraprastha? I expect there would be a lot of work”
“He said that?” Abhaya looked up startled. She then smiled. “As my Queen orders, it would be my pleasure. Though I hear the women from Saurashtra are adept at that.”
Subhadra smiled meaningfully. “Tell me what happened, princess. Did you approach my brother? Did he say no directly?”
The question instantly brought tears into Abhaya’s eyes. She looked away suppressing the sob exploding from her chest.
“Don’t tell me if it pains you so much.” Subhadra stroked her hand.
“How did you guess?”
“Did you and Mitra think you both are past masters in cryptic messaging? Or did you forget that I am a woman?”
Abhaya forced a bigger smile and tried to change the topic. “Would Prince Abhimanyu be fine?”
“Oh yes, he is more used to being with Mother than me” Subhadra laughed. “And Jayanthi is fine too. So I won’t speak further if that only brings you pain. But do understand, Abhaya. My brother is not so heartless as you think of him.”
“I dint allege anything of that sort.” Abhaya shot back. “In fact I am indebted to him beyond measure. I can’t expect more than I deserve right? I am neither a princess of an influential state, nor a cousin of his to dote over. Who am I to dream of the unreachable and then blame anyone later?”
“Anger, relatively more welcome than depression and apathy.” Subhadra commented. “Still you’ve not understood my brother right.”
“Perhaps. Hopefully I am wrong. I can’t think any better. Today I am just a maiden leaving my parental house without a marriage, not knowing when I can return back and what I can find on returning. Forgive my bitterness Subhadra”
“And you blame Rajasuya for this?”
Not hearing a reply, Subhadra continued. “Abhaya, do you think I have the luxury of certainties? After we reach Indraprastha, I should send my husband to embark on his campaign. Can I worry about how many years he would be gone? When would he return? Would he return?”
“After all it is your conquest. “ Abhaya shot back, bitterness overcoming her again. She then regretted and added. “But do you really have to worry about the best of Bharatas? I heard that once he takes on his Gandiva, he is irresistible. Worry for those who shall face him.”
Subhadra blushed. “Thanks for the flattery. But save it for later. I might need it when he is gone.”
“I am sure I am not exaggerating. But even if Mahadeva forbid anything tragic happens, that does not uproot you Subhadra. No I mean I shall stake all my merit for your happiness. But me? I might lose my father, my country might be razed to ground. My only home would be destroyed and I shall be left on this earth, my life completely devoid of any worth…”
“Don’t ever think that way!” Subhadra interrupted. “Abhaya, Do you know what my brother told me? He told me we can’t repay the risk your noble father is taking up for the cause. My marital home is not the one who would be so oblivious to your pain! Your loss is our loss too! My brother told me to treat you like a daughter of Kurus! And By Mahadeva, you would be our daughter!”
“Your brother is generous. So is your marital home to care for a meaningless life like mine.”
“Meaningless? Din’t your noble father entrust you a task? The task of rebuilding your homeland. How can you consider your life as meaningless?”
“Father has high hopes on me, Subhadra. But let us be practical. How can a lone fleeing princess rebuild a settlement ravaged by war?”
“So, you don’t know everything about my brother, do you?” Subhadra asked with a twinkle in her eyes.
“Abhaya, I was an infant when this happened, My brothers fled from Mathura when Jarasandha came for them. They were not cowards. But they cared for the Yadavas. They took the entire fury of Jarasandha upon themselves. They emerged victorious. When attack after attack tired Mathura, my brother masterminded an exodus to Dwaraka. The world looked upon us with contempt. People blamed him for uprooting them of their rightful homes. But today, everyone looks upto him. Fleeing for a worthy cause does not make you cowardly, Princess.”
Abhaya heard the tale fascinated. She remembered Vaasudeva visiting their camp during the exodus. All the memories of him flashed in her mind, ending with the last time his gaze met hers.
“Why? Why? Why?”
“Ask him yourself. You would meet him there for sure.”
Abhaya shrank back at the thought. “No, Subhadra I beg of you. I wont be myself if I see him again. No I don’t want to see him. I don’t!”
“Why do you wish for that Abhaya? Anyways I am moving to the other palanquin to check on Mother and Abhimanyu. You should get some sleep. You need it badly.”
The group of travellers proceeded in their pace. They were received well in Matsya. The King of Matsya requested them to stay for more time before resuming the journey. But Yuyudhana, the Yadava warrior heading the group had been instructed to reach Indraprastha as soon as possible. So they left Matsya and journeyed further towards Shurasena.
Jayanthi’s health started to take the toll of the long journey and changing climate. Abhaya expressed her concern to Subhadra and her own longing to take a break from the journey. Subhadra and Devaki, knowing the pain of pregnancy and motherhood, understood the need to rest. Devaki ordered for the group to proceed towards the nearest settlement and halt for the day.
Yuyudhana was hesitant. “My Lady, the nearest settlement from here is Vrindavan Vrajas headed by Nanda Raja, the old friend of Noble Vasudeva. If we can put up with a little more travel, we can reach Indraprastha ”
Devaki and Subhadra exchanged meaningful glances and after some deliberation, Devaki ordered for the group to proceed towards Vrindavan.