Pandemonium And Witchcraft

Continued from here

“Light up the sky!”, went the order from Karna to his night riders. He needed to take charge, before fear set into his wards.

Swinging to action, several frontline warriors shot up hundreds of arrows high into the sky, lighting up everything underneath. While the arrows burned, the warriors searched for the source of the sorcery underneath. Maybe it was a special weapon from Arjuna? Perhaps Krishna broke his promise under the guise of darkness?

They saw nothing. Just a silent army with their heads still bowed and noses covered.

It all went quiet again, as the Kauravas tried to make sense, in vain.

Nothing happened for a precious few moments.

Suddenly, the animals on the Kaurava side became restless. The men did not hear a thing, but the horses and the elephants surely did. They pricked their ears and tilted their heads ever so slightly. Their legs began to twitch as they showed visible signs of uneasiness. Strangely, the Pandavas’ animals were just fine, exhibiting no sense of agitation. The restlessness grew, as they now began to move around in place. And then, without warning, they went berserk, shrieking, trumpeting, and roaring in distress, and bolted, throwing their masters and mahouts off. Their howls and squeals filled the air.

At that moment, Karna noticed that his men were moving closer to each other, ready to form huddles, a clear sign of fear. He knew he had to do something. But what? What exactly startled the animals? What was at work here?

He was facing a faceless enemy.

The Pandava army receded further back, seeming to give space to someone, or something. Any other time, this would have been a good omen for the Kaurava. They could attack, and push the enemy back. But now, unsure of their own footing, and uncertain of the wide space being created between the fronts, they remained in place. Bereft of their cavalry, they couldn’t advance much anyways. But a strange fear engulfed them, as the distance increased.

Smoke rose from amongst the Pandava camp. Thick, gray smoke. But this was no ordinary smoke. Instead of dissipating, it coagulated into a shape; the shape of a face. Initially, the face resembled a woman, any woman that one can find on the streets of Hastinapura or Indraprastha. The woman’s face smiled, mesmerizing those looking at her. But slowly, the face began to wilt. The hair began to fall off and the eyes became sad. And then, out of nowhere, they turned angry, as her nostrils flared and her mouth opened wide as if to scream, but there was no sound, just a visual.

The sound came a few moments later.

A spine chilling, high pitched shriek that sent the Kaurava army into a collective dread. Some men screamed in fear, others soiled their bottoms. The faint hearted just dropped dead.

Before anyone knew what was going on, the scene replicated itself all around the Kaurava army, with hundreds of such faces forming, and disappearing. The shapes came in various types, of handsome women and little children, of old men and youthful girls. The dreadful shapes into which they morphed also had their own varieties. Some were wild animals, others vicious serpents, and yet others menacing birds of prey. This went on for several minutes, driving fear into the Kaurava camp. Some of the battalions turned back, ready to flee. They did not realize that fleeing, was not an option.

Only death was!

They couldn’t go forward towards the Pandava side, knowing they would be mowed down. They turned sideways, to sneak into the woods and somehow get out alive. Little did they know that lurking in the woods were shadowy figures armed with lances and clubs, maces and daggers, javelins and spears. Long chains tipped with poisonous spikes became fences onto which the deserters impaled themselves. Wild boars and bears, driven to fear by the woodsmen, feasted on others.

It seemed like there was nowhere to go. Captains found it impossible to maintain order. One chieftain finally got his troop to huddle together, forming a human fortress of a thousand men. Yet others shrunk towards the center of the battlefield, hoping to stay on firm and known ground. But increasingly, more and more lieutenants began to rally their troops towards the Maharathis and Athirathis, and the grand sires of the Kaurava clan, hoping to get some respite from this bedlam.

One such division ran towards Dusshasana, seeing his flag flying atop the well lit canopy of his elaborate four-horse chariot. Their captain, aware of the dangers of the night, gave orders to tighten their circle and move in unison towards the Kaurava strongman. Although fearful, the band began to huddle together and move in his direction. They covered a good distance, and were within sights of Dusshasana and his regiment. As they progressed, they grew unworried, confident that strength in larger numbers would ensure safety. And they were wrong!

Out of nowhere, a riderless chariot rode in. Everything was mysterious and eerie about the chariot. There were four steeds. Two of them were certainly horses, black and almost invisible, except for their blazing red eyes. The other two, no-one was sure. Their heads looked like horses, but their stature was decidedly smaller. Their hind quarters were stronger, like they could carry heavier loads for longer periods. The chariot shaft was resting on their backs. The horses frothed at their mouths, while the two other animals dripped blood from theirs. The flaming red reins ran all the way up, but seemed to disappear into the wall the cab. And there was nobody in the cab.

At least nobody visible to the eye.

The band stopped, scared out of their wits seeing this ghost chariot. What was this apparition? And what animals were they? They looked too threatening to be horses. They waited a few moments before the captain made a move, drawing his sword. A couple of others strung arrows to their bows. And they waited.

The captain heard it first. A low growl, like that of an alert dog. He looked around but saw nothing. Scared but brave, he tightened the grip on his hilt. But even in his wildest dreams he couldn’t imagine what he saw next.

From behind the chariot emerged seven large wolves, snarling at the captain and his band. Blood dripped from their mouths, clearly from a fresh kill. The last one dragged the body of a soldier from the rear of the chariot, headless and limbs torn to pieces. The wolves stopped and got ready to attack. It was evident that they were bred and trained for one purpose; to kill or maim.

The sight of these wolves sent shivers down the spines of every soldier in the group. One of the archers, nervous with fear, accidentally released an arrow that fell near the leader of the pack. The wolves went wild with anger, and charged into the huddled troop. Before he could react, the captain’s wrist severed from the rest of his hand, freeing his sword and leaving him howling in pain. Seeing their captain fall, the group began to disband in fear. As if waiting for the opportunity, the pack of wolves broke up themselves, and attacked from other sides. They were soon joined by seven more, bringing up the rear. Within moments, most of the battalion of soldiers and their captain were either dismembered or killed by a rabid pack of fourteen wolves. The few remaining ran for their lives, only to be chased down and hunted, like animals, by animals.

There were a some survivors, and a few others who saw the mayhem. Fear drove deep into their hearts. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the unseen. Fear of the unheard.

And yet, there was no answer to the one question: Whose chariot was it?

The Sorcerer Is Here!

Continued from here

“I will send a messenger for Ghatotkacha. The battle will start any moment now”, said a restless Drishtadyumna, altering his gaze between the fading light and the reformation of the battlefront by the enemy

“No!”, Krishna said emphatically even before his commander finished his sentence. “You cannot introduce Ghatotkacha in the dusky glow of a sunset; he comes only after you see the faintest of stars, when it is dark. Send a word to all torch bearers. In about one Muhurta, all torches are to be put out. It is to be pitch-black on our side. The element of surprise is essential. We have to catch the enemy off guard. We want Karna to be so well into his element that he will have to completely rethink his plans for the night. Our weapon tonight is disruption and turmoil. And what a spectacle it will be”

Drishtadyumna stood amazed at Krishna’s battle tactics. For someone who had always been ridiculed as a flute playing cowherd and a woman chasing rake, this man outthought and outmaneuvered every general on the battlefield, and every scholar off it. All, without ever holding a weapon in anger.

Krishna pulled Drishtadyumna aside and gave more instructions, while he rode off with Arjuna towards the forest. The commanders on both sides were busy reforming the frontlines. This was uncharted territory to everyone. Well, almost everyone. There were only two squads, one on either side, who knew how to fight in the night. The one on the Kaurava side, led by Karna, was trained in the art of night warfare. They knew the frailties of humans, of armed and regimented men. They knew how to exploit those faults and foibles. They knew how to dismantle organized armies under the stealth of darkness. They believed tonight was their night.

They were wrong.

On the other side, was a band of merry men to whom darkness was light. Led by a maverick, wizardry was child’s play to them, and illusion their skill. They could conjure up phantom elephants and phony horses, create illusion of monsters and apparitions of demons. They knew the smells of the night. They could touch the black of the night. They could feel the mystery of the night. They, were the night.

The battle began usually, with some hesitation from both sides, as the horses and the men adjusted to the gradually fading light of the red ball being swallowed up by the dark horizon in the distance. The verve was decidedly slow, as mahouts and charioteers ensured the safety of their animals and riders respectively.

As the brightest stars began to twinkle in the sky, conches blew on the Kaurava side. The frontline slowly receded, gradually replaced by a battalion of men riding strangely fitted chariots. Each chariot had two barrels of oil in the back of the cab. The barrels were protected by thick, reinforced metal and multiple wooden frames so even a fireball arrow would not penetrate them. Through each barrel ran a fortified metal conduit, snaking its way from the side of the chariot, along the columns that supported the canopy. The conduits went up towards the roof of the canopy where they formed a circle. From the circular pipe rose six torches, burning bright and lighting up everything around the chariot. To compensate for the extra weight of the barrels, the cab was built with reinforced black metal and heavy wood, painted black. The horses were doubled, to be able to pull the extra weight of the cab and the barrels full of oil. The horses were black. The archers themselves wore black outfits, and painted their faces with tar. Their arrows and quivers were all black. Black paint was used all over the chariot, making it almost invisible, except for the burning fire atop. On top of the black paint was applied black clay, so that the light from the fire won’t reflect on a neighboring chariot. From a distance, it looked as if circles of fire were floating spookily overhead, approaching at a menacing speed.

As the Pandava army watched with their mouths agape, arrows began to whir past, slicing through the throats of their compatriots. Nobody seemed to know where the darts were flying from. Horsemen began falling off their mounts inexplicably. Some horses bolted, frightened by the approaching fireballs, throwing their riders off and crushing them in the process. Soon, it was chaos among the Pandava battalions. Their leaders, bereft of ideas, began to panic. The Kaurava army began to kill by the hundreds. Their night army was well trained, and well prepared. They had done this several times, and their warriors, seasoned for night fight, scythed through the Pandava army. Karna was smiling. He knew he had the advantage, but didn’t expect a capitulation. He knew the big guns would be hiding tonight, on both sides.

Darkness was not a risk to be exposing one’s maharathis.

Exactly at the appointed time, conches began to blow on the Pandava side. The marauding Kaurava army slowed, unsure of what was happening. What they saw puzzled them. One by one, the torches began to go out on the other side. Before their eyes, all the torches were gone, completely put out. It was pitch black. The Pandava army then stopped moving, staying still where they were, including the horses and the elephants. Noise subsided, slowly and gradually. Within moments, a deathly silence befell the Pandava side. As it happens in battles, when one side falls quiet, the other side follows. The black chariots slowed and stopped. Their own army came to a halt. For a few tense moments, the entire Kurukshetra battlefield went dead. One could hear the wind whisper, the crickets chirp, and the faint moans of dying men in pain. Both sides were unsure what was going to happen next.

It was then that they began to hear. It seemed like distant thunder, but there was not a cloud in sight. It came from Pandava side, there was no doubt about it.

But why did it seem like it was coming from behind the Kauravas? What was it? It wasn’t drums. It wasn’t thunder. It wasn’t the growl of a wild angry beast. What was it? It was getting louder. It was getting nearer. It was jarring. It was unrelenting. It was constant. It was like metal screeching against metal. It was like the distant laugh of a devil; like the terrifying shriek of a witch. What was it?

Before the sound began to make any sense, there was light. A faint glow, almost as if the entire ground behind the Pandavas was lit up with candles. And in an instant, it was gone. Then it started again, this time with a blue hue, and brighter than before. The Kaurava side looked at it in mild amazement. But it went out again. Before they could adjust to the darkness, the sky lit up in an intense, blazing white light, blinding the Kauravas for an instant. They winced, turning their heads away and shielding their eyes. Under the dazzling skies, some of the Kauravas noticed that the entire Pandava army had their heads down, looking at their feet. Clearly they had special instructions for this hour. What the Kauravas did not notice was that their enemies also had their noses covered.

The bewildered Kauravas waited for the next assault on the senses, but nothing happened. Or at least they thought so. The outer extremities smelt it first; a pungent odor reminiscent of vomit, of rotten food and stagnant water. Some of the soldiers began to feel sick in the stomach. But before their bodies reacted, the smell changed to fragrance, of beautiful flowers and fresh gardens; of incense sticks and tasty food. Their stomachs churned, their minds wandered towards food. But once again, before their noses got comfortable, the smell changed again, this time of putrid waste, of burning flesh and dead animals, a sick, damp stench.

This bombardment of senses left the Kaurava soldiers disoriented and unstable. What kind of wizardry was this? Undoubtedly this was sorcery. The leader behind tonight’s assault remained calm. His night riders were unaccustomed to this. He knew this was not a natural phenomenon. One and only one question started to trouble Karna. Who was doing this? Who was behind this? He did not know the answer.

It was him!

A Father After All

Continued from here

Madhava instantly noticed Bheema’s apprehension and approached him, seating himself near enough to be heard in a low voice, yet far enough to give the strongman his space for contemplation.

The strongest Pandava looked up, his worrisome visage a befuddling mixture of the love for his firstborn and the duty to this cause. He closed his eyes for a few moments. When he opened them, he looked at Krishna directly, and addressed him fearlessly.

“Krishna, it has not been even a full day since we lost our scion. You know I do not fear war. You know I do not fear sending Ghatotkacha into this war. I had proposed this idea on the first day. But at that time you had said there will be a time for that. I take it you were waiting for this day. As the omniscient one, you knew a day would come when our dear cousins on the other side would break wartime rules. That day, today, you needed someone on our side to fight an unconventional battle. I am fine with that. I respect your authority on everything. I also concur that there is not a single person between both sides that can match my son’s magical skills, and that he can devastate the Kaurava army tonight, under the cover of darkness. His skills, and those of his fearless comrades, thrive in the night, when they unleash their wizardry unfamiliar to most of us. Their success lies in the concealed, in the unexplained and unperceived. What better time than tonight?”

The Pandava brothers smiled for the first time in the day, hearing the capabilities of one of their progeny, of whose presence most knew, but not his competence. For a moment, Arjuna’s mind wandered to his own dead son, as he wondered what a wondrous empire Abhimanyu and Ghatotkacha would have ruled. The former, with his boundless wisdom of the schooled and literate world, would ensure civility and justice. The latter, with the wit and coarseness of a rustic, would secure everything off the beaten path. It would be an empire where the civilized and the uncivilized would live in a melodious tranquility, where humans and animals thrived in pure, unfettered harmony. A moment of melancholy flashed across his flustered mind, but he fought it and brought it back to the present, before it became agitated

Bheema looked up, took a few moments to contemplate what he was going to say. He looked deeply at his younger brother, seeming to ponder whether to continue his current vein. Krishna knew at once what the most powerful Pandava was deliberating, but let him make the choice whether to say it or not. Bheema decided to continue.

“However,”

Everyone looked at him curiously, wondering what Bhimasena’s hesitation was. When he spoke, the big man was very lucid in his thoughts.

“Tonight Ghatotkacha is up against a warrior who is second to none in the Kaurava camp. He is one of the best exponents of archery on this planet. His arsenal is composed of weapons he obtained from the mighty Parasurama himself. As you yourself said Madhava, he is trained in ways we are not, by the master himself. His craftiness and competence has been proven many times over. Hastinapura has gone from strength to strength since they made him the king of Anga. He is also a valiant man, severely aware of his abilities, and also his weaknesses. If he resolves to kill Ghatotkacha tonight, there is nobody on this side that can stop him”

Those last few words pricked the one man who despised Karna more than anyone else in the Pandava camp. Arjuna knew Karna’s abilities but his own vanity did not allow him to endorse that. Even hurting was that the thoughts were that of his own brother. But he completely understood the sentiment driving Bheema, given his own personal loss yesterday. A father is a father after all.

Unmindful of his brother’s consternation, Bheema continued, “Krishna, you are all knowing. You have been our guiding light from the beginning. In your infinite wisdom, you rescued us countless times when our lives were in peril. Who knows how many times you deflected dangers away from us. We have followed your advice at every turn, at every juncture. The one time you were unavailable to provide your counsel, we lost everything, every little thing we earned and built, including our reputation and self respect, not to mention that we even lost our collective pride, our beloved wife. You have been our friend, cousin, mentor, general, advisor, parent, and advocate during these fourteen days. You have our best interests at heart. You have always stood for dharma. If you told us today to drown in the Ganga to preserve dharma, we would all do that without a second thought”

Krishna felt just a tinge of guilt on hearing the trust his dear cousins placed in him. Only he knew the reasons for some of the dangers he had put them through. But he couldn’t dwell on them at this time. There would be a day, a different time, when he he would explain his reasons.

“So, Madhava, if you assure me that bringing Ghatotkacha in to the war tonight is the best path for dharma, then so be it. If you assure me that this is the best option to neutralize Karna tonight, then so be it. If this will bring about a quick end to this wretched conflict where kin kills kin, then so be it”

As he uttered those last words, his voice seemed to crack and he turned away from everyone. It was obvious to his brothers that the war was exerting a toll on the most powerful Pandava, that whatever his physical prowess, he was a human, and a father underneath.

They didn’t say a word, lest their own affections be betrayed.

Continued here


The Pack Of Pariahs


Continued from here

A perplexed Pandava army looked towards its leadership as the war bugles sounded on the other side. Drishtadyumna calmed his soldiers down and headed towards Dronacharya, to speak about rules of engagement for the night. To begin with, both sides needed a break from fighting all day, both for the soldiers and their tired animals. He also summoned his weapons supervisor, ordering him to send for munitions for the night. Both sides had in their depots weapons specifically designed for fighting under darkened skies, in anticipation of a cloudy day. They needed to repurpose those for tonight. The Pandava commander came back after a short while with the news that hostilities would resume after the sun had set, and would stop at the stroke of midnight. Krishna was impressed with his commander. A night start meant that his plan would work to perfection.

The Pandavas set up a temporary camp at the east end of the battlefield, just as their cousins did on the opposite side. Drishtadyumna set up three layers of trusted soldiers in circles around their camp, to protect their secret plans from being leaked.

Bhima spoke first. “Allow me to lead in, Drishtadyumna. I can decimate their soldiers within no time. My mace is impossible to be cracked. I can take down thousands of soldiers, and I can add a few more of those wretched brothers to my account tonight.”

Drishtadyumna followed next, “If anyone has to lead, it should be me, as the commander in chief. This is uncharted territory for some of you. But remember, I grew up in a very remote village and am used to darkness more than you city folks. My chariot scythes through the Kaurava army. I should be the lead warrior tonight.

One by one, each of the valiant Pandava warriors, including Partha himself, made their case to champion tonight’s battle, much to Achyuta’s amusement. After a few minutes of discussion, he motioned everyone to quiet down.

“Tonight we are not battling against your teacher, my dear cousins. We are not up against someone who creates, understands, and follows the rules of engagement; rules that were made only for daytime warfare. Rules that work when you can clearly see your opponent. These rules were created so that the Rathis, the Maharathis, and the Athirathis knew exactly what was happening on both sides. Your peripheral vision is perfect, as is that of the chauffeur as well as these wonderful beasts themselves. Remember, the animals we have on this battlefield are more or less domesticated, even the mammoths. They have hardly been trained to fight, or assist in the dark. Both the horses and elephants have a keen sense of surrounding in the dark, but that is in the jungle, where there is no artificial noise, no human distraction. Tonight millions of torches will be lit much to the detriment of these animals, whom we have trained to fear torchlight. The fumes emanating from the torches will alter their sense of smell. All the animals will be nervous tonight, and on both sides. In addition, during the day, we can see everything on the ground in advance. The bodies of dead soldiers, animal carcasses, even the imperfections on the ground. We can see them from far and avoid them, or at the very least brace for them. During the night, it is impossible. Your aim and concentration can be disturbed with one little bump on the battlefield.”

“In that case, both sides are disadvantaged. We are evenly matched, so why fear the night?”, asked Sahadeva innocently.

“That, my young Pandava, is where the mastermind behind tonight’s nocturnal battle comes in”, said the ever smiling Krishna, looking amused that none of the brothers realized who he was talking about. His face then turned grim, displaying the ominous portent of what he was about to say. He stood up, turned towards the Kaurava army, took a deep breath, and turned around, facing the indomitable Pandavas.

“As many of you know, Radheya trained under Parasurama for many many years. They trained in the wild. They trained in rain and shine. They trained under conditions that we city folks cannot even fathom. They trained with real wild animals, under real wild situations. They trained in the night. They lived in the jungles in the night. They recognize every little night sound. They can distinguish between day sounds and night sounds. They can identify friend vs foe in the night, without looking. They have a heightened sense of vision, hearing and smell. If I send one of you into the jungle at night, I know very well you will be able to discern between friendly sounds and dangerous. But amidst the din of this war, your senses are weakened. These wonderful animals we trust, their senses are heightened, and as they exhaust quickly, are prone to make mistakes. As you know, one small mistake is all that it takes in a war like this”

He continued somberly, “Importantly, Karna spent a lot more time in wilderness than any of you, notwithstanding the time after your wax house burned down, or the years in exile. He has trained for this. He raised an army with the specific purpose of attacking enemies at night. He has annexed multiple provinces under his Anga kingdom by waging wars at night. His small band of night warriors are trained well for this. They can wreak havoc tonight. He also has several weapons in his arsenal that can light up the sky with pyrotechnics, and shower fire, incinerating everything under them. While our warriors have the antidote weapons, our foot soldiers don’t. Tonight, if we don’t control him, he can reduce our battalion strength to a minimum”

He concluded with one statement, “Tonight, the Kauravas have the advantage”, and waited for that to sink in.

“Unless”

The Pandava think tank looked up. The look on Madhava’s face did not change. His typical mischievous smile was absent. It was clear, that he was unsure about this situation. And there weren’t many such situations with this omniscient.

He turned to Bheema, “There is only one man that can repulse Karna tonight. This man was born in the woods, raised by the bravest woman I have known, and is the most fearsome warrior in darkness. He has the bulk of a bear, the courage of a tiger, the agility of a deer, and the eyesight of a bat. He and his band of fighters do not fear the dark, they revel in it. To the Kaurava army their exploits will look like voodoo. The troop consists of thieves, castaways, derelicts, vagrants, and handicaps. Some of them are disfigured, others hunchbacks. They were shunned by the society and found refuge in the woods. They bonded in the forest, taken in by their leader. They found ways to survive, and entertain themselves. They create incendiaries out of thin air. They make sounds in frequencies that trick your brain. They form mesmeric chemicals out of herbs. They have amongst them several pairs of twins who dress in a way that makes you think there are two heads on the same body. They have tamed wild animals and ride them at a speed our best horses cannot match. They wear camouflage that make them appear to vanish into thin air. They wear invisible armor that arrows cannot pierce and bounce off, like on a metal. With them on our side, we can wipe out a whole battalion of the enemy tonight”

He saw color return to the faces of his audience, after hearing this, except one.

Bheema turned away and sat down. He instinctively reached for his mace, and began to rub his sweaty right palm on its handle, as he always does when contemplating a tough decision.

Continued here.

The Sunset Of Dharma

Continued from here

Duryodhana was livid. Two headless torsos lay to the west, the son’s in his grand chariot, and father’s just a short distance away, under a giant tree. They could have been saved. They could have been protected. The man in charge of protecting his brother-in-law appeared clueless. How could the mighty Dronacharya, the grand master of all weapons, the architect of countless victories, the authority on war strategies, fail? He couldn’t have. He willfully allowed this to happen. He would’ve known about the eclipse. Why didn’t he warn Jayadratha that the sudden darkness was temporary and that the sun would resurface? The traitor!

Karna read Duryodhana’s mind. He had always found the older generation of commanders bothersome, with their adherence to traditional wartime rules. He knew that the longer this war stretched, the more disadvantaged the Kaurava army would be. Kauravas had the dominance of numbers to begin with. They had 11 akshauhinis to Pandavas’ 7. Time allowed Arjuna to chisel away, polishing off one akshauhini after another, bringing parity to the two sides. Karna always advocated swift action, and if that required some rules to be bent or broken, then so be it. Even for Jayadratha, he had a devious idea that he knew Drona wouldn’t even listen. There were so many chariots that looked liked Jayadratha’s. If they had decked up a few, flown Jayadratha’s flag on each one of them, and manned them with impostors, assigned each of those impostors to some of the greatest warriors in the Kaurava army, it would have been impossible for Arjuna to find him. The original Jayadratha could even have stayed in his camp, sipping soma all day. The day would have ended. The war would have virtually ended. Alas!

But now, he had an opportunity. Duryodhana was enraged. the humbled Dronacharya would be conscience-stricken and extremely vulnerable. This would be a time to bend the rules.

Aside from the acharya, there was only one person on the Kaurava side who would protest. Ever since he protested the game of dice, and the attempted disrobing of Draupadi, the third Kaurava brother Vikarna had fallen out of favor with Duryodhana. He would undoubtedly voice dissent to what was going on in Karna’s mind. But he can be brushed aside. People playing by the rules were so predictable. They believed in the basic decency of human beings, and that the majority voice would be upheld. If he was the lone dissenter, Vikarna would easily fall in line.

Karna sounded his conch to halt hostilities, charioted up to Duryodhana, and beckoned him to follow him up to the commander. They both rounded up the biggest warriors and rode up to Drona. From a distance, Krishna saw them approach their commander. He read Karna’s mind, turned his chariot around, and rode in the direction of Bhima, stopping midway to give instructions to a messenger boy to head up to the forest behind the Pandava camp.

“Acharya, please do not be upset and discouraged at this temporary defeat. We know you did everything within your ability to prevent this. We know you instructed Jayadratha to stay low until explicitly otherwise. We all know how conceited and boastful he was. If he had only followed your instruction, he would be alive. Arjuna would have been heading towards self immolation, and we would have declared victory tonight” Karna’s introductory praise drew some scorn from Duryodhana, but he decided against protesting. Karna continued, “As much as I despise him, I have respect for Dhananjaya’s capability and expertise. I know he has in his arsenal weapons that can decimate us several times over, and he choses not to use them because of his love of humanity. I am aware of the destructive power of those weapons. Several generations henceforth would be severely affected with illness and disease. It would take a hundred years before a generation would be able and epidemic-free. The environmental effects would be devastating, leaving our beautiful Hastinapura and its surrounds famine-ridden for decades. Arjuna is a supreme commander of weapons, and an able enemy. I commend him for not using his catastrophic arms. He knew Jayadratha’s pomposity, and used the simplest guided arrow to behead him”

Whatever angst Drona experienced on seeing Karna approach him disappeared with the praise heaped on Arjuna and his capabilities. “I am fortunate, o great acharya, that it is you and not I that is the commander of this army. I cannot fathom the strife within that you experience, every single minute of this war. That you have overcome your internal conflict and carried out your dharma is exemplary. History will never forget you. You will also be very proud to be matching up against your own pupil, and seeing your training come to fruition”

Dronacharya’s heart warmed at this praise. Even with all his erudition and self-control, he was human. Karna’s praise of him, his verbalization of Drona’s mental battles over the past fortnight earned a smile and respect from the acharya. Until now, he was torn between blaming himself for his inability to keep his word in protecting Jayadratha, while being dazzled at the archery of his best student. But now, with Karna’s words, he seemed at peace. He was overcome with emotion, but the only outward expression of it was the lowering of his shoulders.

“Who would have thought, that the sun would set for a brief moment on this day, and rise again, shining ever so bright. You and I know the wonders of nature, we know about such once-in-a-lifetime celestial events as the eclipse. We know that this is not sorcery, but the edict of nature itself. Look at the sun now. He seems to have emerged from behind the moon like a tiger that has broken its shackles. He rises like it is a new sunrise. Who would have thought that we would be fortunate enough to witness two sunrises in a single day? I say we continue, just as we start a battle at sunrise. We fight till crickets chirp. We fight till the last torch burns out. We fight to extinguish the light from the Pandava army. We may not kill the Pandavas tonight. Hell, we may not even win this war. But tonight, we make sure they won’t have much to rule over. Tonight, we avenge our son-in-law. Tonight, we avenge our beloved Pitamaha!”

The roar from the surrounding battalion was deafening. Any protest or reservations Drona or anyone else had on continuing the battle into the evening was lost in the fervor. Some soldiers were already moving in the direction of the Pandava army. Drona didn’t have much control over the what was happening. He went with the flow. It was hard to contradict Karna’s logic. To the untaught and unschooled who didn’t understand the complex cosmic dance between the earth, sun and the moon, it was a second sunrise. They were trained to start fighting at sunrise. And they were doing just that.

Fourteen days after the start of the war, the rules of engagement were broken. There was no turning back.

On the other side, the man who was waiting for this moment smiled. He knew dharma very well. He also knew that the world was not equally divided between the fair dharma and the dark adharma, and that there was a lot of grey in between. He was born in the grey. He blossomed in the grey. He fourished in the grey. He was grey himself. Without dropping his smile, he turned to his cousin and said, “Partha, behold the power of magic tonight. Behold the sorcery of nature. Tonight, civilized men will learn of that which lurks in the woods, and they will be terrified. Tonight, we destroy the only thing that is capable of stopping us from winning this war”

Continued here

You Can Hide, But…

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The day broke reluctantly, as both sides prepared to watch the spectacular battle between the master and his masterly pupil, the hunter and the hunted, the vengeful father and the dutiful commander.

Drona knew it would be futile to attempt to save Jayadratha. In his arsenal Arjuna had weapons that could seek out a specific person and kill him, even if he was hidden several stories deep underground. Should the need arise, with moments to go for sunset, Arjuna would use those weapons, and there was nothing Dronacharya could do. The weapon would be invisible to anyone but those blessed with night vision – animals, birds, and the small army of Ghatotkacha. Nobody else, not even the mighty Krishna would be able to see it in action. It required extreme concentration to summon that weapon and release it. There was only one man who could summon that kind of concentration on demand, in the middle of a raging battle. And that man was possessed today, seething at the death of his son. But something told Drona Arjuna did not need that weapon today. Jayadratha was a boisterous man, unrestrained in his pomposity, and eager to show his face. He believed a true Kshatriya should never be subtle. As soon as he believed that the sun had set, Jayadratha, without waiting for the signal from Drona, would rear his head in celebration, and Arjuna would impale him instantly. And Drona knew exactly at what instant Jayadratha would believe that the sun had set.

But the acharya was going to remain true to his duty. As long as Jayadratha remained hidden, he would protect him. He was going to make this the ultimate test to Arjuna’s prowess. If his favorite pupil was going to kill his ward, he would have to earn that kill. He was going to make Arjuna sweat his every move. He was going to frustrate the mighty Partha, and attempt to break him.

At the west end of the battlefield, an old man sat crosslegged, in deep meditation, in front of a giant banyan tree. Vridhakshatra loved his son to death. He raised him to be a brat; a conceited, arrogant prince who thought he could acquire anything he laid his eyes on – land, gold, or women. His son’s immodest nature appealed to the Kaurava Duryodhana, who saw in his brother-in-law a reflection of himself. Duryodhana quickly welcomed Jayadratha, and the two became very good friends. Even though Jayadratha’s roving eye pinched Duryodhana, their shared desire for Draupadi made him tolerant of his philandering brother-in-law. Vridhakshatra heard about Arjuna’s vow and decided to be there for his son. He knew it was impossible to escape from the mighty Pandava. But he had hope. His son had performed miracles in the past, coming very close to abducting and making Draupadi his wife, only to be thwarted at the last minute. Perhaps he could survive today, and Vridhakshatra can witness first hand the inglorious death of the one man he hated. He sat in silence, in prayer, waiting for the sun to set behind him.

As the day wore on, it was obvious to the Pandavas where Jayadratha was. Bhima and Drishtadyumna began clearing the way for Arjuna to approach Dronacharya. The Pandavas warriors faced tough resistance from the formidable perimeter formed around the acharya. Partha’s chauffeur, however, expertly steered his steeds past the narrow alleyways of soldiers towards the west end of the battlefield, where he knew Jayadratha hid. He knew the reason the Kauravas hid him to the west. The battle would go deep and late today, almost to dusk. If Jayadratha was to the east, he would be facing west, and against the setting sun his face would easily reveal itself. But now, with the sun behind him, it was possible for Arjuna to mistake any silhouette for Jayadratha, and possibly kill an impostor. Krishna smiled at this absurdity. Arjuna could pick and pierce through a bird’s eye in pitch darkness. Anyways, today he didn’t need darkness.

As the cousins’ chariot scythed through the enemy formation and approached the far end of the field, the skies began to turn dark. The Pandava army watched anxiously as the sun sank fast into the western sky. Were they going to lose their champion today? Peripheral battles paused to look in the direction of Arjuna’s chariot. The entire battlefield came to a standstill. Men perched on top of their chariots to look west. With the best views, mahouts stopped their pachyderms and relayed live Arjuna’s progress to foot soldiers. High up above their heads, the sky went from bright yellow to dark red to deathly blue in the matter of minutes. A giant hungry ball began to gobble up the sun. Drona, seeing his beloved pupil’s chariot approach fast, pushed his and his charge’s chariots further back. They were now at the edge of the field, only a single line of soldiers blocking Arjuna. Drona saw Jayadratha behind him, and Vridhakshatra further back. The father opened his eyes, with a smile on his face, seeing the darkened skies, and with it, Arjuna’s defeat.

Arjuna’s chariot easily cleaved through the single line of soldiers, and slowed down, facing the two chariots of Drona and Jayadratha. Dead silence. Swarms of birds began their commute back home. The odd cricket chirped. Warriors reached for their evening conches, to signal the end of day’s battles. Arjuna looked at his chauffeur, who smiled and slowly positioned his vehicle in a way that the prey and his father were in a straight line. He calmly whispered, “bring out your fireball, my friend. It is almost time”.

As the conches began to blow, Jayadratha exulted, opening his arms and throwing his weapons away, “This is your end Kunti’s son. You lose. The sun has set. Go home and die”. But no sooner than he finished his sentence, the conches stopped. The darkness that engulfed the land began to clear. The skies began to turn gentle red and then to bright yellow. As the moon began to release its victim from and the total solar eclipse began to end, the biggest orb in the sky regained its power. With it came light, and shock among the soldiers. Jayadratha’s head turned pale seeing the darkness eclipse fast. It was at this time that he saw it coming. A swirling arrow so swift and precise, that it passed the acharya before he could lift his bow, with the tip catching fire as it passed him. The fire grew quickly as it pierced through Jayadratha’s neck, beheading him at once, separating it from the torso. It didn’t stop there. The burning arrow carried the ghastly head of Duryodhana’s brother-in-law past his chariot, towards the terrified head of Vridhakshatra. It entered the old man’s gaping mouth, drilling through, sliding Jayadratha’s head back on its shaft, and lodged itself into the trunk of the giant tree behind. The arrow burned for a few moments before exploding, blowing both heads to smithereens.

There were thousands on the field that did not witness the killing. But the few that did, would never forget it. The precision, the brilliance, and the cold execution drew gasped breaths. It was difficult not to admire the skill. It was difficult not to dread this man.

Arjuna lowered the bow in his right hand down, having known that if he had released the arrow with his right hand, it would have found his acharya first, and there would be three heads on that shaft. It was not his job kill Drona. His commander-in-chief was bred just for that purpose.

Continued here

The Jayadratha Conundrum

Continued from here

Word quickly rippled through both camps that Arjuna had vowed to kill Jayadratha on the morrow, failing which he would give up his weapons.

When Dronacharya first heard this, he was surprised. He didn’t believe his best pupil would make a pledge that rash. Secondly, why Jayadratha? The main architects of Abhimanyu’s death were the eight men that surrounded him and killed him mercilessly, breaking all rules, and attacking a young warrior from all sides, killing his charioteer and destroying his vehicle. The more Drona thought about it, the more he detected Krishna’s brilliant mind behind this proclamation.

Jayadratha was a relatively small fish for Arjuna. Arjuna could kill him in his sleep. Arjuna doesn’t have to use any of his prized weapons against him. There were many a weapon in Arjuna’s arsenal which, when used once, would be rendered useless. Krishna knew that the emotion of a lost child would drive Arjuna to rage. If he had learned that it was a pack consisting of Karna, Duryodhana and Drona who killed Abhimanyu, he would go after them with a vengeance. But it would be impossible to kill them all at the same time, even for Arjuna. There was still thousands of units of army still standing on the Kaurava side, protecting, and hiding these warriors. Using his precious weapons against them on these days would prove futile. They would be more effective, and likely hit their targets when interference was much less. Eliminating the lesser combatants, and killing off the multitude of armies would isolate the heavyweights, and they can be easily hunted down and butchered.

Drona admired Krishna’s game plan. For someone who made people believe he was a mere milkman, he was an astute commander, with advanced understanding on war games. For someone who said he wouldn’t pick up a weapon and only hold the reins to Arjuna’s chariot, he was virtually running the war entirely according to his plan.

Much like Krishna, Drona summoned the Kaurava astrologer as well to his camp that night. He, being a brahmin himself, had read the calendar. He knew about the celestial event the next day. He knew it was going to be a solar eclipse. They were discussing the exact time of the event when the guard announced that Duryodhana was arriving, with his brother-in-law in tow. Before he could send the scholar away, the Kaurava prince entered the chamber, ecstatic and in an obvious celebratory mood.

“I am sure you heard by now, acharya! All we need to do is ensure Jayadratha is protected and we have won this war. I have already made arrangements. Tonight, Jayadratha will quietly slip away and disappear into the darkness. I have instructed him to go and hide in Indraprastha. That is the last place they expect him to go. The Pandavas have spies along the routes to Hastinapura, and the Sindhu capital. But not Indraprastha. He will be safe there. And anyways, all he needs to do is hide his face to Arjuna until sunset tomorrow.”

“So the son-in-law of the mighty Kaurava king Dhritarashtra, the brother-in-law of the powerful Duryodhana, will disgracefully flee the battlefield in the middle of the night, like a lowly thief running away with his stolen wares. That is the legacy you want to leave behind for your future generations. That is how you want Draupadi to remember you. So be it”, said the wily acharya looking at the two brothers in law.

His words stung both of them. But they hurt Jayadratha more. The thought that the beautiful Draupadi, who may become his one day, would think of him as a coward, disturbed him. But he also knew that staying on the battlefield would mean certain death.

Drona read his mind and proceeded, “I have taught Arjuna everything he knows. I know his every move. Remember, it was my idea to isolate him from the Chakravyuha today to kill Abhimanyu. And we executed that plan to perfection. What makes you think we cannot protect him tomorrow? I have a plan in mind, which is why I called our astrologer over, to figure out exactly how many hours of sunlight we have tomorrow, and to give me an estimate of when sunset will happen tomorrow”

He looked at his scholar, who nodded, and did not contradict his statement.

“There is only one condition. Jayadratha has to stay alongside and behind me all day until sunset, and must not utter a word in anger. Arjuna may guess that Jayadratha is by me and attack my army. But he cannot defeat me. As long as Jayadratha keeps his head down, he is safe. At sunset, he is free to go his own way. Until then, he will be my shadow”

Duryodhana looked at Jayadratha, only half convinced. But Jayadratha made up his mind. For the sake of the woman he craved, he was going to risk death than retreat like a coward. “I will stay with you”, he concluded decisively.

Drona nodded and repeated, “Remember, no matter what, do not let your position be known. No emotional outbursts, no overt celebrations, and no blowing of the conch until I say it is sunset”

As they trudged off, Drona looked at his scholar with a blank expression. The astrologer looked back into the acharya’s eyes. He wanted to say something, but decided not to. He picked up his parchments and left, with the sound knowledge that the war would end soon.

Continued here

The Vow To Kill

Continued from here

As they approached the Pandava camp, Arjuna noticed that the mood was sombre. He looked at the faces, and could tell something was wrong. Soldiers were avoiding his gaze. Some of them sat crestfallen, looking lost. He knew something was amiss, something terrible had happened. His first thought was the Yudhishtira was hurt or captured. But he brushed that aside. If anything happened to Yudhistira, he would have known on the battlefield. Was Bheema hurt? There was no way. Bheema could defeat the entire Kaurava army by himself. Second to Arjuna, Bheema was an archer par excellence. With his phenomenal physical strength, it was impossible to even get near his mighty brother. Nakula or Sahadeva? No! Bheema promised to Kunti that he would protect the twins, even if he had to die in the process. So there was no way they could be in any danger. His thoughts turned to several other warriors, Drishtadyumna, Satyaki, Drishtaketu, Virata, Drupada. But for some reason none of those names seemed to fit the mood. And for some reason, he didn’t think of the first name that should have come to his mind.

He entered the main pavilion, with Krishna following closely behind. The first face he saw was that of Nakula, his little brother. His eyes were red, obviously from crying. His shoulders were slouched over, like a man defeated. He looked up at Arjuna, and without a word, streams of tears flowed down incessantly, hastening down the throat and disappearing into armor. Arjuna stopped in his tracks, and looked around, noting all the faces that he expected to see. He was used to this scene at the end of the day. All the Maharathis and Atirathis gathered right after the day, for a quick headcount, before briefly leaving to freshen up. They then reconvened for dinner, and spoke to strategy. Every day, one young voice would regale them with his heroics, of how he defeated the greatest of warriors on the other side, how they escaped certain death at his young hands.

As soon as he realized who was missing, Arjuna’s walk of pride disappeared. He dropped to his knees, in the middle of the pathway, letting go of his Gandeeva. He bent over and hid his face in his palms, as anguish gushed forth from his heart into his mouth, sobbing like a child. He was uncontrollable, as he felt like ripping his armor off and bawling. He hunched over and wept inconsolably, muttering incoherent words. After a short while he lifted his head, looked up, and let out a deafening scream.

Everyone let him be for a few moments, allowing him to gather his composure. After he settled down, he picked himself up and stumbled to the nearest seat. He swallowed hard, and looked up, sorrow, anger and desolation swirling in his head. He turned to Yudhishtira, because he knew he would get the right answer, “who did it?”

Yudhishtira was stumped. He wasn’t sure who exactly killed Abhimanyu, because according to many accounts, several Kaurava warriors surrounded and attacked him. But nobody had a clear version of who they were, and how they executed the plan. All he knew was that he and the rest of the Pandavas attempted to surround and protect Abhimanyu but Jayadratha blocked them at every stage. According to him, Jayadratha was the main cause for their inability to protect their prodigious scion. That was the first name that came to him when Arjuna asked the question.

“Brother, we tried our hardest to protect our favorite nephew. But Jayadratha…”

Arjuna jumped up from his seat as soon as he heard the name, picking up his bow and holding it high over his head with his left hand. He pulled the string hard with his right thumb and index finger, and let go. The resulting twang made a resonating sound, bringing everyone’s attention to him.

“I, Arjuna, the greatest warrior in this world, proclaim at this time, that before sunset tomorrow, I will sever Jayadratha’s head from his body, and failing to do so, will cease fighting. Let this be known to the Kaurava camp. Tomorrow Jayadratha will breathe his last”

The proclamation stunned everyone in the room, except one. Yudhishtira and Drishtadyumna exchanged glances, both thinking what would happen if Arjuna failed to kill their brother in law. But they decided not to say a word at this time. Nobody else had anything to say, as they all sat pensive. Arjuna slowly lowered his Gandeeva and walked out, preferring to be left alone at this hour of grief.

The one person that wasn’t surprised looked out and smiled. He immediately went over to the adjacent tent and sent for three scholars who studied weather patterns and geographical rotations. He was told earlier by the three that there was a major celestial event coming up on the 14th day of the war, which could lead the generals and their armies to superstition, and hence act in ways contrary to normal wartime behavior. He knew it was new moon the next day, and from the astrological studies he learnt, it can get in the way of the sun from time to time. He wanted to know precisely at what time this event would happen, and how could take advantage of it.

He calculated mentally that there were probably about five days of war remaining. And tomorrow, Arjuna would begin his annihilation of the Kauravas.

Continued here

Arjuna’s Resolve

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Duryodhana approached the lifeless body of Abhimanyu watchfully. He was used to ruses and deceit, so he wanted to make sure this young man was not pulling one on him. Dronacharya saw that and assured the Kaurava prince that Abhimanyu was indeed dead, and that honorable men do not resort to such traps.

Soon word spread across the battlefield, through conches and drumbeats. Although the soldiers weren’t sure who was killed, it was fairly certain one of the heavyweights perished today. Bheema and Yudhishtira instantly knew what the beats meant. Yudhishtira’s heart bled and he was overcome with anguish. How could he face his brother? He was to protect Abhimanyu. Abhimanyu was supposed to the future king, the future emperor of Hastinapura and Indraprastha. Now, his body was lying somewhere in the battlefield, among thousands of slain men. What would he tell Arjuna and Krishna? His charioteer sensed his grief and took him away from the action, towards the Pandava camp.

The skies turned dark red as the blood thirsty battlefield began to devour the simmering sun into its belly for the night. Arjuna, having engaged in a fierce battle with Susarma and the Samsaptakas, was bewildered. When did these warriors become so powerful? Or were his own powers on the wane? Under any other circumstances, a couple of hours would be enough to finish them off. But today, they seemed to have this verve that he was unable to kill even a single warrior. He laid waste to their army, butchering virtually every division, but the warriors themselves seemed to find new ways to escape and fight back. Their taunts and insults made it even bothersome.

As the battles drew close for the day and it was evident that he would live through the night, Susarma increased his volley of verbal barbs. He mentioned Draupadi several times, enraging the Pandava. Krishna kept Arjuna’s temper in check all throughout. At one point, when it became overwhelming and Arjuna picked up his most powerful weapons, intending to wipe out the entire area. Krishna, mindful that that weapon would be put to better use on more powerful warriors like Karna, decided to switch strategy. He knew who sent Susarma and company. He knew what was going to happen on the other side of the battlefield. And he knew he needed to switch Arjuna’s attention away from the Samsaptakas. The man who blocked his cousins from protecting his nephew must be eliminated on the morrow. He swung into action.

“Arjuna, we need to find out how these Samsaptakas survived today, who is their driving force. They are acting at someone else’s behest. Any other day they would have fled in fear at your mere sight. But today, they challenged you in the middle of the day, and Susarma is mentioning Draupadi again and again. Something doesn’t add up. I want to find out more”. He then turned his attention to Susarma

“Susarma, you know very well that you cannot defeat Arjuna today, or any other day. As long as he is able, and I am by his side, nobody can touch him. You have already been defeated by him before, even during this war. Yet you challenged him today, thinking you can take him on. You have clearly been misled into believing you can defeat the greatest archer on earth. Why don’t you reveal your secrets and Arjuna will spare you in this war, not just today but later as well”

Susarma thought for a while. Although taken by surprise, he was honored to be addressed by SriKrishna himself, to begin with. He looked around and pondered at the offer. His army was decimated. His kinsmen were all but dead. Even though his warriors were alive, there was nothing to fight for. Arjuna had systematically dismantled his entire force. His pride, and the prize promised by Jayadratha were the only motivations at this point. He knew that after tonight, he and his men will have to suffer the ignominy of serving under someone else’s command. Since it was reduced to a small band of fighters, he would be assigned to some second level general like Uluka or one of Dusshasana’s sons, instead of a more desirable Karna or Ashwatthama. A touch of regret came over him. He wished he hadn’t listened to Jayadratha. Yet he was defiant. He wanted to incite Arjuna one last time and force him into making a mistake.

“O Vaasudeva, I and my Trigartha brothers know the powers of Partha very well. We have no pretense about where we stand. But we have sworn to frustrate him as much as we can. We seek revenge for all the defeats we suffered at his hands. We are prepared to die in the process. Arjuna after all is human. And every human has weaknesses. Your cousin’s weakness is his beautiful wife. Duryodhana can have his kingdom and the entire lands of Indraprastha. After this war, most of those lands will be barren, because most able-bodied men will be dead. What use is such land to us? The likes of Jayadratha and I, we care more about beauty. When the Pandavas are defeated, he and I will take Draupadi and share her. She is used to being shared anyways. At least this time it is only two and not five”

Krishna smiled. He had been waiting to get Jayadratha’s name out of Susarma all afternoon. Hearing that name, Arjuna went berserk. Jayadratha had, on several occasions, indicated he lusted after Draupadi. He insulted her for having five husbands, adding that she can take another – him – without question. Arjuna had wanted to cut Jayadratha’s throat multiple times in the past. But the simple fact that he was the husband of their only sister let him spare the brother-in-law. With this latest episode, he crossed all barriers. Jayadratha had now wagered the Pandava pride and attempted to sell her to these Trigartas.

At that moment, Arjuna resolved. Jayadratha had to die, and die soon

Continued here

The Immortal

Continued from here

Abhimanyu writhed as the arrows pierced his body armor and disabled him. The pain shot through his legs, traveling rapidly through the veins, and affected his ability to aim. His next arrow, which he meant for Duryodhana’s flag post, missed its target. But the power and skill of this young man was such that the arrow hit and downed the flag post of Brihadbala, who was right behind Duryodhana in the secondary circle. Brihadbala, a direct descendant of Rama, seethed in anger at this insult.

The flag of a warrior was his signature, his pride. Men poured their heart and soul into designing their flag. A powerful flag was a statement. A mighty flag drover fear into opponents hearts. Many times, a superhero warrior won wars by just turning up with his flagged chariot, without having to draw a weapon.

Brihadbala forgot all about rules, and raced towards the wounded Abhimanyu, going past Duryodhana and wanting to finish off this brash Pandava youngster. He realized his mistake as soon as his chariot went past the Kaurava’s. The arrow cut his reins, separating his horses from their payload, and Brihadbala tumbled down, out of balance. But he quickly got up on his feet, grabbed his sword, and charged at Abhimanyu.

Abhimanyu assessed his situation. Both his legs were shot, but he could still move. After the initial shock, his mind quickly recovered and focused. He knew he had limited mobility. He had to use his supreme archery skills to keep the enemy at bay. He had all his weapons close by. He also looked at his chariot, and made a mental assessment of all the pieces he could use as weapons. He saw the approaching Brihadbala, sword in hand. He picked up his bow and drew the arrow back, aiming to cut the sword in two. But before he could release his arrow, his bow was broken. Dusshasana, shooting from behind Abhimanyu’s back and taking advantage of his immobility, wickedly laughed as he hurled a spear, leaving Abhimanyu’s weapon of choice ineffective.

This was a well planned, and well-orchestrated attack. Although Duryodhana personally wanted to kill Abhimanyu, he knew that a single assassin would sign his own death warrant. Arjuna would effect such a vengeance on the killer that half the Kaurava army would be demoralized just thinking about it. Duryodhana wanted every one to have equal part in killing this kid, so that Arjuna’s wrath could be dispersed, and hence contained.

Abhimanyu moved slowly and painfully. His feet felt like they were tied to a rock. But his abilities weren’t diminished. He swung around, turning his back to the marauding Brihadbala, picked up a spear from his chariot, and in a single swoop heaved it at his attacker. The spear twirled its way in the air and cracked through Brihadbala’s armor, ripping his ribs apart. He gasped for air and stumbled. Not wanting to waste another weapon on this dying man, Abhimanyu left him alone, to the horror of the enemies surrounding him.

Dusshasana decided it was time to end this. The longer this child was alive, the more damage he would cause. He rushed towards him, bow and arrow aimed at Abhimanyu’s chest. Abhimanyu watched intently, his eyes concentrating on every movement of Dusshasana. When the arrow released, he cut it down with his sword, inches from his body. He picked up the flag staff from broken his chariot and hurled it into Dusshasana’s chariot wheels. His left wheel shattered, Dusshasana tumbled off the chariot, losing his balance. He fell within a few feet of Abhimanyu. Abhimanyu smiled and tightened his grip on his sword. He saw fear in Dusshasana’s eyes. He picked up his sword in his right hand, and a spear in his left hand. But he didn’t act. “I won’t kill you, uncle. Your death is pre-ordained in someone else’s hands”

Shalya quickly rode up and rescued Dusshasana, mounting him onto his own chariot and driving away to safety. Shalya knew if he stayed around, he would certainly die. So he ran away.

Kritavarma, who all this while had been only taunting Abhimanyu without attacking him, moved slowly towards him. He felt guilty of being part of this conspiracy. But he had to fulfill his duty. He didn’t want to kill Abhimanyu; only disable him further. If he can drive a few arrows into Abhimanyu’s armor and disappear, he can look his Yadava clan in the eye. But before he could act, Abhimanyu had picked up Dusshasana’s mace and swung it at his chariot. Kritavarma barely avoided being smashed in the skull. The mace broke his bow and smashed his flagstaff, causing the horses to lose control and run wildly away.

Karna and Duryodhana decided to attack together. With more of their original warriors running away or disabled, the band of attackers ran the risk of dispersing, leaving Abhimanyu alive. But at this point, leaving him alive was not an option. They knew they broke the rules. If they left him alive, he would come back tomorrow, or the day after, and annihilate them. He had to die.

The two friends released several arrows in Abhimanyu’s direction, who expertly dodged or smashed them, all the while standing in a single spot. His concentration and skills amazed everyone around him. Soldiers stopped fighting and watched this spectacle. Other generals, mounted on elephants and horses, put down their weapons and gaped at this drama. Deep inside, several of them rooted for this young warrior, who refused to give up, and was fighting till his last breath.

Abhimanyu picked up his mace and swung it hard in Duryodhana’s direction. The mace smashed his chariot’s box, and all his weapons fell out, including his own mace. Helpless, Duryodhana instructed his charioteer to charge at Abhimanyu. Abhimanyu picked up the broken axle of his own chariot and slung at Duryodhana’s chariot. His wheel broke, and the chariot tilted on its side, riding on its axle. The charioteer immediately swung away from the fight, knowing if he got any closer Duryodhana would probably die at Abhimanyu’s hands

Karna, Drona and Kripacharya couldn’t believe their eyes. Karna instructed Shalya’s brother Rukmartha to attack Abhimanyu from the front. He circled around, looked at both Drona and Krupa and told them to wait for his signal. As Rukmartha approached, Abhimanyu, now short of weapons, picked up the wheel of his own chariot. He picked it up with both hands and began twirling it around above his head, like a chakra. Seeing the opportunity, Karna, Kripa and Drona shot their arrows, releasing them in quick succession.

Abhimanyu released the wheel. It spun viciously and cracked Rukmartha’s skull. But right at that moment, three arrows stuck him from three of the greatest warriors on that field. And then three more.

The six arrows slit his chest plate and armor, piercing through his skin and drilling deep gashes in his body. As he fell back, three more arrows were released. This time, the arrows went deeper, cutting through his ribs and coming out on the other side. Think crimson fluid dripped from the arrow tips, as this boy faced warrior fell to the ground.

He landed on his back with a thud. His body went into a shock. He legs shuddered for a few moments before he lost sensation in them. His right hand, which gripped his dagger as he was falling, loosened. His vision became cloudy. He saw the clear blue sky. He remembered Virata, and his first encounter with Uttara. He felt nothing but her soft skin on his cheek. He heard nothing but her sweet voice by the creek.

And then her beautiful face filled in, as he closed his eyes

Continued here