Continued from here
The Kshatriya that he was, before Abhimanyu left the garden towards the city, he thanked the elderly woman and asked for specific directions as to where he can find her in the market, later in the day.
His quest quest just expanded in scope, from finding the pulse of Virata’s people, to finding its princess. No father would turn down a proposal from him, if he revealed himself. But his identity needed to remain concealed. He knew she was a princess. But was she the daughter of Virata? Was she one of his nieces? It can’t be. He remembered the lady’s words, “She is the princess”. So Uttara must be Virata’s daughter.
The thought of Uttara weakened him. For a moment he toyed with the idea of walking into Virata’s assembly today, announcing himself, and seeking her hand. Then he remembered his uncle’s sobering advice. Krishna, a notorious ladies man himself, would be proud that his nephew won over the princess of Virata. But he would flash that enigmatic smile of his and say, “I am happy that you accomplished what you set out to do”, clearly reminding why he was sent in the first place.
As he strode through the beautiful streets leading up to the imposing palace, he observed the people, stopped and spoke to the locals and registered their conversations. Virata’s subjects seemed happy and cheerful. Abhimanyu deliberately tried to inject negativity in his conversations. But the natives deftly avoided or confidently corrected him when necessary. This seemed a land that would uphold dharma. Additionally, there was something about this place. Was it the air? Was it the mountainous backdrop? Was it the affability of the people? Or was it her?
He learned that the king was a gentle soul, cared for his people. He was not a skillful tactician or a great general. Yet, he was a simple man who knew his limitations and put in charge the right people for the right posts. Abhimanyu learned that Virata relied mainly on two men in this land. His commander in chief, who was also his brother in law, Keechaka, ran the armed forces. Keechaka was a strong, powerful man who was set to return soon after defeating a band of rebel satraps. He was believed to be one of the four strongest men in the entire world. Nobody dared oppose him. Keechaka was known to be a bully sometimes, but everyone forgave him because he did it for the kingdom, and he was loyal to the king.
For administrative advice, Virata relied upon another person who was a recent immigrant, but quickly shot to fame with his knowledge and application of the law, and policy making capabilities. His name was Kankubhatta. Everyone seemed to know that as long as Kankubhatta was standing next to the king, justice would be done. Lately, the king had completely handed over legislative duties to Kankubhatta, convinced of his fairness, integrity, and equanimity. Kankubhatta was always by Virata’s side. The two were inseparable in court. The king had instructed the announcers in court that they should take Kankubhatta’s name, in addition to his, when declaring the assembly open.
As the sun rose towards mid-morning, Abhimanyu registered at the palace entrance, to attend the assembly. He gave his false name and profession as a traveling trader, and entered alongside the group of people heading towards the court. His intention was never to visit the assembly, but to find Uttara in one of the palace gardens. He stayed towards the rear of the pack. He knew the exact moment he was going to sneak out.
The marshals announced the arrival of the king Virata and his sage counsel Kankubhatta. Everyone looked in the direction of the entrance, as the two men majestically walked towards the throne, in full regalia. Abhimanyu wanted to look at the father of his love interest. He had heard a lot about Kankubhatta that he wanted to see him in action. But his heart yearned for Uttara. He slipped out of the court to wander into the palace gardens. Nobody noticed it. He walked about, unchallenged in his quest. This was not the first time he let his heart rule the mind. The next such instance wouldn’t be so forgiving.