The biting cold could probably freeze the blood in one’s veins. At least those who come from the plains to the top of high mountains in peak winter would feel so. The room offered little warmth without fire. Abhaya uncomfortably turned over pulling the two crude rugs over her more tightly. She had lost count of the days or weeks she had been away from home. Ever since she hit her had against the tree in dark, near Kashi, she only had vague memories of what happened to her. Maatangi had caught up with her and had forced sedated food to her again. In the windows of consciousness that followed Abhaya only remembered the discomfort of the rocking carriage as it sped along rough paths. They had halted only at places which were far away from any civilization. Twice during the halts, Maatangi had been kind enough to give her a chage of clothing and guard her during a much needed bathe. In the third halt, Maatangi was nowhere to be seen. Abhaya found that two other similarly dressed women were in charge. She had not botherered to find who they are. The continuous travel, untimely food, rapid changes in terrain did not leave her with much energies to attempt an escape.

In the course of the journey, Abhaya had found herself nearing the Himalayas. She had never imagined she would travel this far, almost through the breadth of AryAvarta. At the foot hills, she found that the halting camp was far bigger. There were many more women who were captured or coaxed. The cold weather as well as the anxiety and excitement gave her a high fever which she hadn’t experienced till then.  The journey from the foothills to the present city was the most arduous one which had made her want to die rather than live through the pain and repetitive nausea. The fever only became worse with not much of medication available.

The present halt seemed to be more comfortable than the last one. Abhaya felt it could be the destination. The place of worship to where those cursed vAmAchAris wanted bring her and other captives. A part of her aspired to do something to frustrate the mischief. The desire mostly kept her going, despite the failing health and decreasing hope.

Abhaya shivered through the thick rugs. The chill seemed to come from within. She had developed a strange feeling of detachment to her own state and the sickness did not bother her. She felt a presence in the room. She turned over and found someone lighting the fire which had been put out. The woman, no a girl, her face showing she was not more than fourteen, but a built that made her look like a robust nineteen year old approached Abhaya.

“How are you feeling?” the tone was kinder than all those Abhaya had encountered in the recent past.

“Like anyone cares!” Abhaya replied with a smile full of sarcasm.

“Don’t say so. You should recover soon.” The girl seemed to genuinely wish for her recovery. “This is the worst time one the year to journey till here from the plains. I admire your vitality to stand through this.”

Abhaya made a feeble attempt to sit up and have a closer look at the girl.

“What is your name?”

“My father named me Kamakhiya after the Goddess here.”

“Kamaksha?” Abhaya corrected the distorted pronounciation.

“Yes, Kamakhiya.” The girl repeated. “But don’t call me by that name. Mother KamAkhiya is dear to me. Call me Mauri, after my father’s name”

“Mauri.” Abhaya repeated. She wanted to let out her anger upon being deceived and brought so far. She wanted to shout out how evil it was to abduct women against their will. But then this girl, Mauri, was not the one to take it. Abhaya resigned to take the medicated drink that Mauri had brought. It tasted bitter, but was soothingly hot.

“Why am I brought here, Mauri?”

“You would know soon. And don’t feel scared. No harm would befall you. But you should recover soon. We can’t afford to strain you more.”

“Who orders you to bring captive women here?” Abhaya asked not caring about Mauri’s last statement.

“You would soon know, everything. Mother is compassionate and powerful to guide you in your new life here.

“New life?! By the trident of Mahadeva!!” Abhaya felt her head reeling and collapsed to the bed, if one could call it so.

Mauri hurried to her side. “Do please relax, maiden. Don’t be anxious. We care for you.”

With her body not still in a position to obey her, Abhaya groaned in despair and frustration. Mauri gently covered her with the rugs and disappeared.

“Vaasudeva, Come to my rescue!” Abhaya called out and in the next moment brushed the thoughts and tears away. For all practical reasons it felt like her life was doomed. She felt it was meant to be doomed all along walking towards dangers.

But who would have dreamt that the peaceful Ambika temple would draw in these miscreants? It was simply ordained that she land up with those children that fateful day.

“Had I gone to Indraprastha  along with Subhadra trusting Jayanthi with Mother Yashoda, what would have happened? Yashoda and Radha would have taken care of Jayanthi and Stambha and the mother and son would have joined me. I would have been in search of something meaningful to do with my life. I would have sought out the purpose which would have united me with Vaasudeva. Whatever be the result, I would have started my efforts. What am I doing now? Lying helpless in a place where nobody can reach me. Why did I go to Ambika temple with Vrinda and…”

The thought stirred Abhaya from any traces of drugged sleep.

“Mahadeva! Vrinda and Viraja would have gone alone to the temple. Had they in that tender age been brought to this horrible place, would they have withstood the trauma? Would they have been able to stand the arduous journey that effectively wrecked my body for all my Kshatriya robustness? The gods willed that my life be of some use to someone. I just hope those innocent girls have found their way back home now.”

The thoughts tired her to a semi conscious state. She chose to close her eyes beginning to feel warm. Warmth could have been because of the freshly lit fire and also due to the medication given by Mauri. Abhaya felt a partial feeling of satisfaction at how she helped Vrinda and Viraja escape the clutches of these vAmAchAris.

“I was just not meant for you, Vaasudeva. Destiny was bent upon wresting you away from me. The merits of my past lives are not sufficient to win over you. Then why does my heart yearn for you?”

The images of Vaasudeva flashed in her mind in a blurred fashion. She was conscious, yet she was dreaming. She felt herself stretching out her right hand towards him. “I am yours Vaasudeva.”

“Arise Abhaya!”

Abhaya opened her eyes with a start as the voice seemed to echo in the room. “Was it really a dream or?” She noticed looking at the window that it would have been long past the sunset. The voice had been clear. Abhaya pored over her memories. Those memories of when she and Vaasudeva had visited the temple of Anagheshwari, the evening before her father safely returned. At hearing the news, she had sprung to her feet as Vaasudeva wasin the middle of explaining something. What was he explaining? Something about the Circle of universal wellbeing. It was a lapse on her behavior to almost leave a person midway in his speech. She had realized it after she was steps ahead and suddenly turned back with an apologetic look. He had only smiled at her happiness and rose to his feet. She had gone back to him and half knelt before him, saying “Forgive me, Vaasudeva… I was…”

He only chuckled with an informal wave, “Arise Abhaya! I understand we need to welcome His Majesty.”

Abhaya sat up again now, wide awake and realized she had started sweating, despite the cold. Was her fever coming down? She marveled at the effectiveness of the herbs in the medication. Then with a sigh she noted. “He had spoken these words to me. I just dreamt him again! Wait, did he say ‘Abhaya’?” Abhaya tried remembering the conversation. All the while he had addressed her as princess or at times had been formal enough to say Your Highness which she had disliked. This was one instance where he had taken her name. Abhaya wondered what happened that moment in which he took the much desired liberty. She had been too joyful to notice the subtle change in his address.

Abhaya reached out to a jug of water placed by her side and drank mouthfuls of it. Her tongue had begun to relish the taste of the water. She again pulled the rugs over her and smiled at the memory. How did she miss that? He had actually taken her name sans the formal address. She wondered why?

“He had been explaining his perspective of Dharma to me. No, he explained to me what is Dharma! Mahadeva! Who but a teacher would take care to explain a concept like that? He was her guru for that moment and she, his sishyaa. At last, she was his something. Her heart raced again. He might have been expecting her at Indraprastha. Would he have been disappointed?

“Tall wishes, Princess of Anagha! He has the whole Pandava family and his own to dote upon him to miss you. And he had a whole Rajasuya to organize and a whole AryAvarta to consider. Yes, he would lose his sleep over you indeed!” Abhaya almost laughed at herself. Another thought struck her. “If he taught me something, I won’t let it go waste. For all what I claim as my love, I shall live by it. For whatever lifetime is left for me, I shall live by it. I shall live for Aryadharma.”

Tired at the flood of emotions, she lied down again, wrapping the rugs tighter. His images seemed to reappear the moment she closed her eyes. “Vaasudeva”. The smile on his face became more and more pronounced, his face came closer. She lay still at the experience which she could not call real as she knew he was not physicaly present before her. But she could not dismiss it a dream for she was conscious. His gaze was intense and his eyes had a message she could not fathom. For moments, she did not breathe and even considered opening her eyes for the intensity had become something unbearable. She felt drawn into him.

“Vaasudeva!” She opened her eyes, now almost expecting to see him physically. “No, it was a different kind of a dream, but a dream.”

She closed her eyes again. No image appeared now. Tears filled her eyes again at being unable to conjure his image after multiple attempts. She was left wondering if she was going mad. “Vaasudeva, come to me. I love you and only you!”

The End

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