A visibly large exodus trudged Northward along the sandy highway across Matsya. Three carriages drawn by four horses each and placed after one third of the contingent comprising soldiers, horsemen and smaller chariots looked prominent. One knowing the protocols of a royal or a noble retinue could make out that they carried women of Noble households. In one of the carriages, two women were seated and a third stood, possibly wanting to stretch herself. An active debate engaged them, but helping them to forget the fatigue of the long travel.
“Sister, Lakshana. You should continue. Listen to us.”
“You cousins paired up against me very well. Bhadra, you have an infant son. Why don’t you go?”
“Sister, my son is too young to recognize me and even feel my absence if he is nestled in your lap. Mahadeva forbid even if something happens, he would not feel my loss.” Bhadra spoke with an air of superior understanding and determination.
“And I am still to conceive. Nobody to feel my loss again if something happened to me.” It was Mitravinda with a slight laugh.
“Praghosha is over two years old. He needs you more than our children need us.” Bhadra pressed.
“Oh Is that why Vaidarbhi, sent Pradyumna and the younger Charu with us? Is Charu not going to feel the absence of his Mother.”
“Well, you can convince Charu that you are his mother. It would take him a year utmost to accept you. And Rukmini trusted you Lakshana.”
“Well, you treat me as if I am younger than Charu and Praghosh. You believe I would play into those flattery of yours?” Lakshana shot back.
“Flattery? Now, I know why legenda and folk tales have portrayed co-wives as bitter enemies. It is simply unnatural that two cowife would appreciate each other.” Bhadra smiled, feigning exasperation.
“Fine, I give in to that. Why cant all three of us head back to Dwaraka to Vaidarbhi? And why are you both bent upon me going alone to Indraprastha.”
“Because we want the children to have the father and a mother.” Mitravinda replied without a thought.
“We can always hope that some other princess or a noble lady would win the Lord as her husband. They can get a mother then.” Lakshana argued.
“What if the Lord does not marry her, whoever she is. Can we trust the children upon him who hardly stays in his own home and travels all about AryAvarta worrying about everyone’s problems like his own?” Bhadra reasoned.
“And worse, sister, Lakshana. If something happens to you, your father, the prince of Madra would nurture a grudge against Dwaraka and might even join hands with Shalva. Can you allow Lord to face that?”
Lakshana could not find an answer to that. She hesitated, but was not convinced to go alone.
“Go on, I shall alone go to Indraprastha, face him and say, Lord, all your other wives have committed suicide. I am the only one left. We can alone enjoy the bliss of samsara.”
“You sound ridiculous. He knows his Lakshana. Doesn’t he?” Mitra laughed.
“He would know a new Lakshana if he learns about what would have happened.” Lakshana ruefully pointed out.
“Sisters, why are we assuming that the worst would take place? We know that Nakula would have left Kekaya by now and would be headed to Madra. His is mostly a diplomatic conquest. He would soon engage Shalva and Big brother would temporarily be relived of the border fight. He would be headed back to Dwaraka and protect Vaidarbhi and remaining women. By the time we get there, he would be back protecting the city of Dwaraka. We can accompany the rest of the women back to Indraprastha.” Bhadra spoke at length about he possible positive outcome. “Come on princesses, I am not being optimistic, this is most possible.”
“So, Lakshana, all you have to do is tell the Lord that the children would not go without you. Anyways they have all warmed up to you including the new infant. Also tell him that we would all be soon at Indraprastha to eat into his peaceful diplomatic time.” Mitra laughed.
“Listen, If I ever have to see a trace of ridicule or contempt in his eyes for this cowardly act, my curses would heap on you both.” Lakshana almost shouted, feeling cornered by the arguments of the cousins.”
“Be well, sister. Lord loves you too much to show any contempt. Tell him that we really… well, leave that.” Bhadra turned to the charioteer to halt while Mitravinda embraced a tearful Lakshana.
Both the cousins ordered for a smaller chariot and got into it, much to the confusion of the generals surrounding them. Not caring for their repeated protests or bothering to answer what they asked, Mitra cracked the whip and forced the horses into a gallop towards Dwaraka. Six or seven horsement followed them, cursing the unexpected changes.
They did not stop or halt much except for the minimum rest needed for the horses and sped westwards. One early morning, they came across a ravaged settlement strewn with dead bodies and a few wailing women and children.
Mitra pulled the reins in part shock and part concern.
“By Mahadeva, when did this happen? It was hardly a week since we passed this place the other way.” Bhadra exclaimed
“Anagha!!! By Mahakala! This was Anagha! Look at the fort with doors wide open! Whoever attacked this place?” Mitra screamed.
Bhadra held her as she stood at a point of turning hysterical. “Sister Bhadra, this place is no less than my mother’s home. The princess dared to pass my letter to the Lord. They stood up to their promise of guarding the highway.”
“And paid a high price.” Bhadra sadly admitted.
“What happened to the King?” Mitra turned the chariot cautiously towards the fortress letting the guards take the lead. But the once peaceful settlement now remained just a memory. There was no trace of the King or Vikram.
“Did they escape somehow? I bet all my merit. Let Mahakala will that they are alive.” Mitra exclaimed.
Bhadra laid a protective arm around her and led her away from the gates much to the relief of the guards. “Why would anyone destroy a settlement so small as this?”
“I don’t think they are from Avanthi.” Mitravinda spoke, stopping to examine one of the corpses of the soldiers.
“Everyone is dead. Nobody is just wounded. How can we get any information?” Bhadra pondered.
“Look at the torn banner there! The Chaidyas!” Mitra screamed catching hold of Bhadra’s hand and hurrying towards the chariot.
“Mother Gauri!! When Dwaraka is least defended from the southern side and when Vaidarbhi is alone ….” Bhadra did not complete the sentence and mumbled hurried prayers instead.