The entire family was present. All but their precious princess. They slumped in their seats, defeated and distressed.
King Suvalu sat on the grand armchair, at the center, his head sunk into his right palm. His eyes were moist with shame. His other hand sat limp on his left thigh, seemingly drained of life. His hunched-over posture indicating abject failure. To his left sat Vasumathi, his queen. Her face was ashen. But her eyes were dry. She had an unflappable disposition as she watched her sons intently. Within a few feet on four different couches sat her four older sons, appearing crushed and conquered. She lifted her head up to look at her youngest.
Shakuni stood by the large window to the north, gazing blankly at the mountains. He stared expressionless, remembering the events of the day. Less than 24 hours ago he was talking to the emissary from Hastinapura, respectfully rejecting their proposal to marry Gandhari to Dhritarashtra. He went over the conversation minute by minute. At no point did he suspect that their retribution would be this swift. He had underestimated them. Mahabala’s uncongenial exit suggested that yesterday’s episode was far from over. Yet Shakuni miscalculated that they had come prepared.
His discussions with his father and the military chief Supratapa after Mahabala left yesterday only centered on being watchful and vigilant. They sent some spies out yesterday to determine the Kuru dynasty’s intent. Maybe this time they would send a senior ambassador to renegotiate, maybe one of their ministers, to try and convince Suvalu to agree to the espousal. Supratapa went a step further and had a meeting with generals and satraps just to be on the lookout. But nobody, not even the soothsayers anticipated this.
Sometime during the early hours of the morning a small company of Hastinapura’s elite warriors invaded Gandhara. Before the military could be alerted, they entered the royal palace, disabled the guards, immobilized the entire royal family, drugged the princess and took her away. The entire operation lasted less than an hour. Some of the guards were incapacitated by the sheer spectacle of the elite force’s operational excellence. It seemed there was absolutely nothing the well trained Gandhara guards could do.
The entire episode kept playing in Shakuni’s head over and over again, when he heard his oldest brother mumble, “How could they do this to us? We are their allies”
Another got a bit belligerent. “Let’s round up our army, gather all our partners and invade them. Let’s bring our sister and our pride back”
“Are you out of your mind? Have you not seen their capability? 9 chariots, 27 cavalry and 45 foot-soldiers did this to us. A small company. What chance do we stand against their mighty army?” sounded out a third.
“It is true. We have to figure out a way to save our dignity in this incident. We must accept our fate, and that of our beloved princess. We are lucky to be left alive”, said the king, finally finding some voice.
“I would rather prefer dying fighting them than reconcile. This cannot go unpunished. An eye for an eye. Let’s find out how many of our able men were martyred and I’ll vow to kill double that”, said the bellicose one.
“Son, they didn’t come here to kill anyone. Not a drop of blood was spilt during their incursion. They came here to abduct your sister. The only other thing they took was her pet goat.”
“You mean none of our guards are hurt? How is that possible? I know our men put up some fight.”
The eldest son spoke, “No. Father is right. They did not come here to hurt even a single person. Two assailants entered my chamber to disarm. I found my dagger and attempted to stab one of them. He escaped and we got into a minor scuffle. He tried to punch me in the face. The other invader quickly disabled me, turned to the first one and barked, ‘Don’t forget our instructions. These people are family. We aren’t supposed to harm them. No bloodshed.”
Shakuni instantly turned his attention to his brother.
“Did he say that we are family and we shouldn’t be harmed?”
“Yes, For a moment I thought it was very noble of even the lowly soldier to have such belief and self control. If they hadn’t abducted our sister I would even have commended them on their dignity”
Shakuni looked at his mother. The same thought ran through their heads.
Virtue can be a weakness. All it needs is the right set of conditions and someone astute enough to exploit them.
Vasumathi lowered her eyes and let a deep breath out.
Shakuni returned to gaze into the wilderness. This time his mind started racing.