Continued from here
“Please do not come inside. You are not welcome here.”
The words did not surprise Shakuni. He wondered if it was Dhritarashtra that actually sent for him this night.
“Your brother-in-law is in the study with Sanjaya so there is nobody to overrule me tonight. Stand on the balcony and do not dare to set your malicious foot in my chamber. And yes, I sent for you, not him”, said Gandhari reading his mind.
“Those white lilies you passed near the second landing. They smell amazing don’t they? Late autumn is the only season they bloom. You should see them when the sun lights them up in the morning. The petals glisten like the stars twinkle in the sky. It’s the most peaceful start to a morning, even a morning like the one coming up”
Shakuni did a double take. He had noticed the white flowers on his way up. They seemed vaguely familiar. He was trained in horticulture as the prince of Gandhara but had all but forgotten the science. Since her voluntary blindfolding, his sister’s other faculties had become more acute. But he was surprised her striking description of visuals.
“Have you been secretly lifting your blindfold, dear sister?” said he making a feeble attempt at frivolity.
“You are either very nervous, or completely out of touch with reality. But my hunch is you are scared. You are scared of the outcome. Because you know the outcome. You are scared of your legacy. Because you are your own legacy. You are scared of Sri Krishna. Because you cannot manipulate him. You are scared of me. Because I know you”
Shakuni had been awaiting this tirade for a very long time. He was surprised it took his sister this long. Every time he was in her presence he felt his muscles tense. He would withdraw to his chamber and meditate to refocus. He would replay the entire events from all those years back in his head. He knew what he was doing to her. But his goal was bigger than his relationships. His nation, his people, their pride was larger. He was ready to sacrifice himself for it. His sister and her clan were collateral damage.
The queen continued, “You and I share our mother’s ability to remember and replay in our mind, every single minute of our life. It is indeed a gift. Those lilies you walked past are from Takshasila. When we were young our entire family used to retreat there every single year. I would always wake up just before the sun rose and watch these flowers shine at morning light. I used to then run into the woods to play in the creeks, with scant regard to the dangers of vicious serpents. Several of our servants died from the venomous snakes”
She paused. She lowered her head seemingly reminiscing those days. A tear made its way past the blindfold and onto her cheek. She didn’t bother to wipe it.
“But there was someone who always accompanied me. He would yell out from behind me to slow down, which I never did. He would then race past me with a sword in one hand and a large stick with a round head in the other. He would clear my path as I ran about. I do not remember how many times you encountered a snake. You never told me. I do not remember how many times you stopped me from getting bitten. You never told me. All I remember was that you were there to protect me. Always.”
“And here we are today. At the brink of an extinction. One hundred sons. All of them gone over the next few days. Tell me dear brother. Why? Was the honor of your kingdom, of our father so important to you that you wagered your sister’s joy? Every single one of us – including mother – had came to peace with what happened that night. Yet your ego, your vengefulness will result in the deaths of you, your own sons, your brothers, your nephews and almost all of your relatives. Your favorite nephew is going to be lying dead somewhere on the battlefield.”
“But I called you today not to talk about war, but peace”, continued the sagely mother.
“I have always made peace with myself. When I was abducted in the middle of the night. When I was married to my own pet goat and had it sacrificed. When I realized there is no medicine or magic in this world that could fix my husband’s blindness. When I made the decision to blindfold myself for the rest of my life. When my husband was sidetracked as the king of Hastinapura even though he was the rightful heir, being the older brother.”
“I made peace with it”
“And then came Kunti. She comes from a much smaller Yadava kingdom. She came with a known disrepute of having borne a child out of wedlock. She is not known for her beauty. Her husband could not even have been amorous with her. Remember he died when he attempted to make love to Madri, not Kunti. Even with all these blots she ended up being the queen of Hastinapura. She sat on the consort throne.”
“I made peace with it”
“And then as fate would have it, as a consequence of Pandu’s reckless action while hunting as a youth, and due to the rush in his loins on seeing Madri exit the shower, the queendom fell in my lap. I never wanted Kunti to be widowed. Not for a moment. But I did enjoy my position as the queen. I was always destined to become the queen. That is why they stole me from the royal palace. I am the rightful queen.”
“The day Yudhishtira was born, just a few hours before Suyodhana was supposed to, my heart sank. I would have wanted my bloodline to continue ruling this magnificent land. The perfect mixture of the Kuru and Gandhara bloods. Two great clans. Two proud, noble dynasties. But destiny would choose otherwise.”
“I again made peace with it”
“I don’t have to tell you what happened while my children were growing up. You have had a considerable influence on all of them. After all these years of heartache that they have given me, mostly under your vicious direction and their father’s blind indulgence, I am as helpless tonight as I was the night a small company of soldiers invaded our beautiful palace. That night I was asleep. Tonight I am apathetic”
“I am still at peace”
“Go my protective brother. Your agony and rage at what happened all those years ago must have ravaged your mind. Maybe this war will quench your thirst for some blood. As much as you can, protect your kin.”
“May you find your peace in death.”
The sad queen then turned inward and walked away, into the darkness of her chambers.