Life at Kamarupa continued in a sluggish pace as Vasumathi and PinAka continued to convince the women to embrace the ways of vAmAchAra. Abhaya, Sunanda and Vishva continued to repel their attempts. Other women of noble and royal birth too found courage under the inspiration of Vishvavara who was never short of courage to remain unmoved form the path of Vedic life.
Abhaya meanwhile explored chances of escaping from the place. But all the endeavors looked futile as the township was fortified with a heavy and agile guard. The women brought in by force were allowed to move around the temple freely. But it was not possible to get past the fortification. Despite the continuous stream of pilgrim visitors, the female guards were alert enough to shield the captive women from talking to strangers and visitors. In the first few weeks, Sunanda and Abhaya noticed a pattern in the days of the week in which there was a lot of pilgrim crowd. As a plan formed in their minds, the girls went to counsel with Vishva. They found another young yogini with her. They had noticed this woman as an active practitioner of the vAmAchAra. Their interest was roused as they saw her tear stained face, almost beseeching Vishva.
Vishvavaranoticed Abhaya and Sunanda enter the room and smiled, looking pleased and introduced the yogini. “This is Anilavati, a noble woman from Pundra.” Both the princesses nodded in courtesy and introduced themselves. “She desires to abandon vAmAchAra which she had followed for a short period, and return back to our ways.”
It was evident that the princesses welcomed it delightedly. Sunanda however betrayed a doubt, despite her happiness. Anilavati was relieved at the reception. She then turned to Vishva. “The Arya world shall not accept me back, Devi. In their eyes, I would always be a sullied woman. I wish I had rather died than come into the threats and entreaties of these demons.” Her face again turned pale with dejection as tears blurred her eyes.
“I cannot promise on the behalf of all the Aryas, Devi. But I can say that the path of seeking vedic knowledge is open to those who can pledge their commitment and stay true to it. I strongly believe that the self within you is beyond the bodily perceptions.” Vishva consoled Anila.
“Didn’t Trishanku seek redemption and was granted the same by Vishwamitra? If you truly seek to adopt the life of Aryas, nobody can stop you, Devi. We welcome you.” Abhaya spoke, her heart feeling a surge of exhileration at the thought that their determination had begun to break the vAmA women.
“We welcome you heartily, Noble lady. I also want to warn you of the social ridicule you would most probably face in the plains. But do remain steadfast and unruffled in your will.” Sunanda spoke thoughtfully.
“We can bother about the social ridicule when we have a chance to get back to that world. For the moment the chances seem so bleak.” Abhaya pointed out. “What matters is the strength of our will. Regardless of our release or escape, regardless of our acceptance, irrespective of what happens after we die, let us remain true to Dharma.”
Vishva smiled with a new light in her eyes. “Your determination and motivation is highly appreciable, princess. But the detachment to results I notice in your words is pleasantly unusual to find in your kind. I have come across steadfast KshatrANis who stick to Dharma desiring a place in swarga. But you say irrespective of what happens after you die, you would remain true to Dharma. Can I ask you what makes you so strong willed?”
Abhaya was quiet for a while. “I have seen people who stand by their beliefs irrespective of the results of their actions. Their will to pursue their vision was so strong that praise and ridicule, heaven or hell stopped mattering to them. I am nothing before such men, Vishva.” Her heart heaved at the memory of two men. Of the one who had given her the life and the one who had given a new meaning to her life. Brushing aside the tempest of memories full of emotions was a difficult task. Abhaya felt she needed to be alone and took leave of the other three.
“Vaasudeva, If I ever have a regret in life, it would be that I could not tell you what you mean to me. The memory of your unperturbed smile alone keeps me alive even when I have no hope to even meet you again. You reign over my heart. You steer my life through these grueling times. But Mahadeva is not merciful as to allow me to reach you.”
Her thoughts came to a sudden halt as she felt someone clutch her left arm from the corner almost making her jump. She turned around alarmed to see a woman past her fifties. She seemed to be a yogini. Abhaya did not remember meeting her in the past weeks. She drew back her arm from the woman and eyed her questioningly.
“You, you took away my son, that day!” The woman almost screamed.
“Forgive me! I know neither you, nor your son!” Abhaya shot back at the rude accusation.
“No, it was you. I don’t forget a person’s face so easily. It was almost two years back. I had seen my son after a very long time. But you pulled him away from me and took him away. You are the princess right? Aren’t you the daughter of that King who tore me away from my son?” The woman was almost trembling with a misture of anxiety and rage.
Abhaya was dumbfounded at her intensity of accusations. She tried to comprehend what the woman who almost seemed mad was saying. She tried to remember what happends two years before and who her son would be. She looked startled at the sudden realization. “Are you talking about Prince Vikramasena?”
“My Vikram! He is not a prince. He is this Kadambari’s only son. ” The woman screamed.
“You are Kadambari?” Abhaya asked noting her name. “Whatever your name is, Vikram is my brother and son of my father.”
“All you heartless brutes! A mother’s wrath would never leave you in peace. See for yourself, your father took my son away from me and the divine mother snatched you, his daughter away from him.” Kadambari stated in a vengeful triumph.
“You are mad. I only feel relieved for Vikram that he left you. You would have destroyed him.” Abhaya spoke in spite. “And don’t be under the impression that I am going to stay quiet and submit to you demons. I shall….”
She halted in her words as she heard another scream from behind the temple. Without caring for Kadambari’s rants, Abhaya ran in the direction of the screams she heard. The voice sounded like that of the Pundra lady she had just ment. Yes it belonged to Anilavati.
Abhaya reached the place where Anila stood pinned against the wall by one of the rustic looking sAdhakas. “You dare to anger the mother! Come with me!” He held her by force and shook her with bulk strength.
“I am no longer a slave to your uncivilized beliefs. Let me go!” Anila cried out despite the pain shooting through her arms at his assault.
“Leave her!” Abhaya’s voice sounded behind him. He turned around to see a maiden of glaringly well shaped frame.
“You are new to this place?” He smiled crudely, lust showing in his eyes. “Well, I shall leave her for you!”
“Stay away from both of us! Don’t you know your own rules? You cannot force me or her!” Anilavati shouted as she tried to loosen his hold over her arms. But he was no longer concerned about her as he turned around and advanced towards Abhaya leaving her arm.
“Abhaya, he is a brute! Run and shout for help!” she screamed.
Abhaya did not heed her words. Her pented up anger against the vAmAcharis had finally found a target. She examined his movements with a concentrated gaze, breathing deeply to gather her strength. He seemed drunk and not in his complete senses. Why would anyone expect a sadhaka to be sober when his way of worship endorses consumption of wine. Yet, Abhaya thought it was an advantage for he cannot be agile enough to fight her to submission.
In a flash, Abhaya jumped towards him. He spread out his arms to catch hold of her. But she nimbly ducked towards his left and within a second wrenched the crude sword that hung on his waist.
“You dare to trick me!!” He angrily hissed and grabbed a trident that stood against the wall.
The weapon was long enough to keep her away from injuring him. Abhaya calculated her move considering the disadvantage she had with the smaller than average sword that she was left with. She backed a few steps in hurry as he advanced with the crude and long weapon.
“By Rudra!!! Is no one around?” Anilavati screamed. She saw Mauri at a distance below the main steps of the temple and called out to her.
Abhaya was not in any position to pay attention to what was happening around. Her whole focus was held in thwarting the brute of the sAdhaka who now looked like he would kill her if he can. He was clearly drunk.
As he leapt at her, she nimbly ducked aside and in an impulsive defence, struck his side with the sword. Stung by the sudden pain, he lifted his right arm to bring down the trident over her neck. Again guided by instinct, Abhaya moved away, simultaneously cutting across his right arm.
Without much struggle ahead, the man fell to the ground. It appeared like she had succeeded in cutting his artery. He screamed in pain, cursing and abusing her in the filthiest language she had heard. Paying no attention to his words, Abhaya dwelt upon staying away as he even tried to crawl towards her with vengeance. Abhaya understood that he would not last long. She looked around for Anila and was dismayed to find three angry sAdhakas, probably the friends of who she had almost killed.
She had no strength left in her to fight three men armed with strangely shaped weapons. She turned around to run in the direction of the temple. But they seemed to gain upon her. Abhaya blindly ran, praying and simultaneously marveling her will to live.
She turned around to see on of the men almost upon her. To her disgust, she did not feel strong enough to run faster. She would be in his grip any moment.
At the same time Abhaya bumped into a man whose frame could only be compared to a mountain. She turned around suddenly halting and parlty losing her balance. This man looked relatively civilized in his dress and appearance and sober in state. The sternness in his eyes dried up any remnants of courage she had.
“What is happening here? Don’t you all know that you cant force a woman against her will?” He thundered at the men, simultaneously pulling Abhaya behind him.
“She is evil. She killed our companion.” One of the men stated, pointing at the limp and prostrate figure at the distance behind him.
The man turned to Abhaya, strengthening his grip on her wrist. “What did you do Maiden?”
“Commander Mura, that brute tried to molest me against my will.” Anila’s voice sounded from the right. She stood there accompanied by Mauri, Vishva and Sunanda. “This maiden tried to protect me. He then attacked her. She was only protecting herself and me.”
“Did you kill the sAdhaka?” Mura thundered.
Abhaya looked into his eye, undisturbed. “I killed a demon that dared to force itself on a helpless woman.”
Mura softened, partly because of the strong reason and partly impressed by the courage of the woman. He turned to Mauri. “Guard her and all of them closely. I wont have any deaths happening.” He shoved Abhaya towards Mauri and ordered the guards to take care of the wayward sAdhakas.
“I leave you as you were on the right side, maiden.” He spoke in a relatively low, but stern tone. “But do not dare to disrupt peace here. Mura cannot stand disorder under his command.”
“Is abducting helpless woman from the plains a peaceful activity Commander Mura?” Abhaya asked fearlessly.
“Mauri, take them all inside.” Mura spoke disregarding the question. Something in her question stirred him. He did not have an answer. But he knew that he had to stay firm on his duty of maintaining peace in the temple.
Abhaya stared at him. She did not feel the same contempt for Mura as she felt for others. The grip with which he held her hand was more protective than oppressive. Abhaya felt that the commander of Bhauma, unlike others had his own moral code which somewhere matched with that of Aryas. She could not point where. Now she could just feel thankful that Mura was there to save her from the brutal sAdhus who otherwise would have killed her or worse… Abhaya shuddered to even think and shut her eyes in prayer.