The Kaurava camp on the East end of the field is clearly much larger than the other one. There are hundreds of tents. Bheeshma’s tent is the most prominent – very large with multiple chambers and surrounded by guards. A few tents down is another large one. But this one was strangely unguarded. The tent is dark outside – to protect the identity of any spies that came in or went out. Although well lit inside, it did not have any sentries. Occupying the tent was Duryodhana – in deep meditation.
Duryodhana appeared strong and powerful and in trance. He looked calm and peaceful. His face radiated an energy not seen in normal people. His breathing was deep and steady. His well-built pectoral muscles rose and fell with each long breath. He sat cross-legged on a raised platform, facing east. There was something captivating about this eldest of Kauravas.
A few minutes later a shrouded figure entered the tent from the rear entrance. The figure did not make a sound as it stood behind Duryodhana. The Kaurava prince opened his eyes and exhaled.
“Finally after 4 days of war you remembered your friend!” he said, getting off the podium and turning around.
The figure took it’s hood off, revealing yet another tall and strong warrior. It was Karna. If Duryodhana was captivating, Karna was hypnotic. His face radiated like a thousand suns. His eyes were bright and incisive. He had a tattoo of the rising sun in between his eyebrows. He was taller than Duryodhana. It seemed like Karna had a natural armor built into his chest. He did not wear anything to cover his upper body. But his shoulders and chest looked like a thick protective plate.
When he spoke, his voice was mesmeric.
“You know that I am not supposed to be around the camp my friend,” he said in his intense voice.
“I know about Pitamaha’s stipulation. But who has the gall to tell him you were in my chambers?”
“The walls have ears my Kuru prince”
“I don’t care about spies Anga’s king. They can tell Bheeshma Pitamaha what they want. He knows I trust you more than anyone else – including him. I would gladly defy him and win the war”
“Suyodhana – you speak ill of your Chief Commander. This cannot be good for our morale. You have to remember – the commanders and generals only give out orders. They have to be carried out by the foot soldiers. If they are clueless or demoralized they become easy prey. Specially when dealing with the Pandavas”
“Have you come here to praise my enemy my friend?”
“You are my friend – my lord. I want the Pandavas dead as much as you do. But it is my duty as your friend and counsel to tell you never to underestimate an enemy. Pandavas are powerful. You have to win them with cunning and deceit. Conventional warfare will only weaken them a little bit. But each of the Pandavas is capable of defeating a large army single-handedly.”
“Then tell me Karna. How can we defeat these 5 brothers? I am not unaware of their power. I am well educated in the matters of the state. I fought several wars and resoundingly won them. The Hastinapura kingdom has reigned supreme for generations now. There is not a kingdom we haven’t conquered – by war or by stealth. We have even prevailed on Yudhishtira’s Indraprastha by defeating him in the game of chance. But for some reason I do not feel good about this war. Omens do not bode well this time. So how can we win this one time?”
“I see that one thought is bothering you my friend. But like I said before, this war cannot be won by orthodox methods. Following rules will only lead us to defeat. Our army is larger than theirs. But your teachers, your uncles, and most importantly your Commander-in-Chief have publicly announced that we are fighting against dharma – indicating that we are at fault. Do you realize what that does to the morale of the army? Unless our army believes they are fighting a righteous war they will not win. It is just impossible. But we cannot do much about it now. The damage has been done. The only way now is to throw all honesty aside and resort to trickery. Let me ask you one question. Who do you think is the most feared warrior on the Pandava side?”
“Why that is an easy question. Bhimasena undoubtedly. As you may have heard he has killed 10 of my brothers in gruesome fashion. Some of my brothers’ body parts haven’t been recovered. They say after killing the last one he threw the body to wolves in the forest. If we can kill Bhimasena we would have broken their back”
“Forgive me for disagreeing with you my friend. The Pandavas did not enter this war on the back of Bhimasena’s power. The only reason they went to war with us is because of Arjuna. They believe Arjuna can annihilate our armies. They are not wrong by the way. After me, Arjuna is the best archer in this world. There is not an archer in the current Kaurava army that can stand up to him – not even your very own dear granduncle. Arjuna has in his armory weapons that can wreak unparalleled destruction. He has also obtained special weapons training during his travels before the fourteen-year banishment and even during that period. Bheeshma doesn’t stand a chance when Arjuna is in his element. There is just one and only one person that can stop him. And that is me. I have acquired a special weapon called the Shakti with only one purpose in mind – to kill Arjuna. I don’t mean to wish for Bheeshma’s death but I cannot wait to use that weapon on Arjuna. I want to see the look on the Pandavas’ faces when that weapons strikes him and he explodes into a thousand pieces.”
Duryodhana’s face lights up when he hears of this. He immediately embraces Karna. He turns and walks to the window.
“That should right all the wrongs that have happened to my family. Let me tell you something that I have never said before. Everyone thinks I am evil. They all think I have usurped Yudhishtira’s kingdom by sleight. They think I do not know the cost of this war. They could not be more wrong Karna. I am not the devil. I only wanted justice for my father. Several years ago a mistake happened in this kingdom. The first born in the family was not made the king. Both the brothers were born with congenital defects. If my father was blind uncle Pandu was frail. There was no way he could run the kingdom by himself. He rode on the crutches called Bheeshma, Kripa and Vidura. He was completely incapable of being the king. You have only seen my father at the court – blind and unable to see right from wrong. But I have seen what he is physically capable of. He is the strongest man you can find Karna. He can crush your bones with one hand. I have seen him blast holes through the walls when he is angry. My father was clearly the more capable among the two. So why did they rob him of his position? I have seen him cry in his solitude because he was never considered the king of Hastinapura. He has spoken to me of the countless insults he bore because he could not see. Apparently even uncle Pandu would taunt him. Can you imagine living in the shadow of a much weaker person all your life? It consumed my father. I could see the pain in his heart. It was my duty to make it right. That is all I am doing”
Karna sat down in one of the large seats. He could easily relate to Duryodhana’s story. His own life had a parallel. Duryodhana continued “And then that evil woman – my aunt Kunti”
Karna suddenly felt a prick in his heart. Every time he heard the name Kunti something overcame him. He could not explain it. It was as if he knew her very well – yet did not. He had heard her speak only once. Her voice sounded very familiar. It was the same voice that subconsciously calmed him down whenever he was agitated. Her voice came through as a lullaby to him. If there was one thing that stopped Karna from attacking any of the Pandavas it was that they were Kunti’s sons. For some incomprehensible reason he felt guilty at the thought of hurting her sons. Hearing Duryodhana speak ill of her made his stomach queasy. He coughed. Duryodhana turned to look towards his friend. He tried to interpret the strange expression on his friend’s face but could not. He carried on nevertheless.
“That woman. How can she claim to be a Kshatriya queen? She did not have any of the children through her husband. All her three children were born through others. Even her stepchildren were not born through her husband. She knew uncle Pandu was feeble and impotent. She found someone else to bear her children. What kind of a woman does that? You know what we call such women?”
Before Duryodhana could complete his sentence Karna stood up. A bead of sweat trickled down the side of his face. His face reddened with a slight hint of anger. Strange emotions swelled in his heart. He felt like throttling the person in front of him. He started pacing around the room. He could not explain this feeling to himself, nor his friend. He got agitated. He felt claustrophobic in this chamber of his friend and savior. He wanted fresh air.
Duryodhana noticed this sudden change in disposition in his friend. “What is wrong my dear Karna?”
“I think we should leave the women out of our discussions. They are of no use to us in this war. We need to focus on weakening the Pandavas first – especially Arjuna. Arjuna has one weakness in this war – his young son Abhimanyu. If we can capture or kill Abhimanyu it would cripple Arjuna. Do not forget Abhimanyu is also Krishna’s nephew. If something were to happen to Abhimanyu both the warrior and his ace charioteer would break. I would strike my Shakti right at that moment. Who knows? Maybe we can kill Krishna too”
Duryodhana smacked his lips at this idea. He hated Krishna. He knew Krishna could turn this war around in an instant. Apart from being a highly astute person he also knew hypnosis and magic. Killing them both would end this war in an instant.
“So what would you have me do my friend? How can we kill Abhimanyu?”
“Abhimanyu is a fearless warrior. They only way to kill him would be to surround him with several of our best warriors and down him. Again, there is nobody in the Kaurava army that is on the field today that can kill the young prince. I am the only one that can account for him. We will wait for our time Suyodhana. It will come”
As the first light began to appear on the horizon Karna took leave of his friend and made his way into the shadows of the woods. He boarded his chariot at the edge of the forest. As the chariot sped off towards Hastinapura he felt disturbed. The unkind words Duryodhana had for Kunti still reverberated in his ears. He did not like those words. He gripped his sword as the words echoed in his head. To his amazement he realizes that had it been someone else in place of Duryodhana, he would not have hesitated to use that sword. That thought alarmed him more than anything else. He needed answers. He made a mental note to speak to the one person he knew would answer all his questions. As soon as he arrived at his palace he sent for his trusted messenger. He instructed the messenger to go to the Pandava camp and ask Krishna to meet him at the north end of the river after sunset.