As they settled down in their new capital, the younger Panchala royals began talking about attacking the Kuru kingdom, taking Dronacharya hostage and forcing Ashwatthama to abdicate his throne, thus reclaiming the lost half of their kingdom.
One suggested a stealth attack during the night. Another said it was futile to go after the Kuru kingdom and proposed to capture or kill Ashwatthama.
Drupada all this while sat in silence, contemplating the next course of action. The insult he had been handed out must be avenged. A single warrior, a teenager, riding a single horse chariot, equipped with only a single quiver full of arrows defeated his border guards, his palace sentries, his personal bodyguards, entered his palace in broad daylight, defeated him in a single duel. It took the youngster less than a minute to disarm him, tie him up and ride back to his kingdom. He was speechless and spellbound by this juvenile’s skill and mastery.
Just a week ago, a small group of his elite forces repulsed a silly attack by a handful of Kaurava princes. The oldest of them showed brilliant mace fighting skill but he and his 5 brothers were no match to the one hundred and eighty strong battalion. They fled before being captured. At the time the Panchala king thought it was a foolish incursion by some miscreant princes. Little did he know that his childhood friend was behind all this, and that his kingdom would be split in two.
His minister Madhupala sat beside him.
“What are you thinking? O great king? You have been very silent in contemplation. The palace is abuzz with rumors that you are too stunned to take control of this half kingdom. I know you are planning something. I can probably help”
“He just turned sixteen. Such radiance. Such finesse. Such power. And such nobility. He treated me with utmost respect. When he put his sword to my jugular, it did not even touch my skin. I didn’t feel a thing. But I knew if I moved an inch I would be dead. The way he disarmed me. Such dexterity. He didn’t grab my sword from me. There was no force. It was like he was playing a musical instrument.”
“So you think we cannot win as long as he is with Hastinapura?”
“No. Revenge is such a petty thing. Dronacharya took revenge on me because I turned him away. Because he thought I promised him half a kingdom. Because he thought I ignored him during his time of need. Because he thought I threw him out of the kingdom. He plotted all these years to defeat me and take half of my kingdom. Such negativity. Such anger. Such pettiness. No my dear Madhupala. Drupada will not seek revenge. I refuse to live in constant anger of his deeds. But I am a Kshatriya and I need to do my duty. Half of my kingdom was taken away by someone. The kingdom that my ancestors built painstakingly. The person responsible for this will pay the price. He will die. By my sword. But I will not wield it.”
Madhupala wondered what his king was talking about.
“We need to think smartly about this one. This retribution will be done on two fronts. Our first strategy must be to disarm Arjuna and the Pandavas. I don’t mean by attacking them. I need them on my side.”
Madhupala intervened, “The best way to accomplish that is to make them your relatives. Arjuna is young. They will soon be looking for a bride for him. Can we not find a pretty princess in the royal family to betroth him? Once he is a son-in-law of this land, he will not go against you”
Drupada smiled, “I have someone in mind”
“What is the other idea?”
“I need a fearless warrior. I need someone who can break the rules of engagement when the time comes. He must be built like a warrior yet speak softly like a doting father. He must be raw and uncivilized yet willing to adapt to the royal ways. He must be a mercenary. We shall have him trained in Hastinapura. He shall have a teacher like no other. And he shall kill that same teacher when time comes”
Madhupala trembled at the coldness of Drupada’s scheme. He had clearly underestimated his majesty. He still had one question in mind, “Where will we find such a person?”
Drupada smiled, “Travel south past the holy river. You will reach a thick forest. At the edge of the forest is a small town, distinct by its circular shape. Its men are built like champion fighters and its women are dazzling beauties. At the northeast corner of the town is a small house surrounded by 3 layers of fences. Beware of the third and innermost fence. It is built with the thorniest shrubs and interspersed with mesmeric flowers that emanate poisonous fumes, benumbing the unsuspecting. Living in that house are a brother and sister. Bring them to me. It’s time they took their true place in this palace”
Madhupala always wondered where Drupada would disappear some times, riding solo to the river in the darkness of the night. No one dared to follow him, for fear of incurring his wrath. He suspected that the king had an illicit relationship that he was not ready to disclose. Today he needed confirmation.
Even before he could formulate his question, Drupada answered, “Yes Madhupala, they are my children. They have royal blood flowing through their veins. And yes, the queen knows. She has even met them.”
“I will announce them to the world on this coming ekadasi. Have the sages and brahmins in the kingdom perform a yagna starting tomorrow. The yagna must be like no other the world has witnessed. Fires from the yagna must reach the sky. On ekadasi, bring my beautiful children to the palace. Their father and their kingdom awaits them”