Rude Awakening – II

Continued from here

Karna knew what would be the outcome of Banasena fighting with Bhimasena. There was only one way it would end, and it wouldn’t be a happy ending for him. He urged the Madra king to speed up and cut his son off from certain death. Thanks to the power of four horses, Shalya was able to race ahead and come in between Bhima and Banasena. Already a few volleys were exchanged between them, resulting in a broken bow and a few pointed presents lodged in the young man’s chariot from the Pandava.

Karna intercepted Bhima’s arrows to Banasena, breaking them mid-air. But he was clearly nervous. His son was heading towards a death machine. He himself, supposedly the best archer on his side, had been treated like a novice; his son did not stand a chance. He looked around for more help, and saw Dusshasana in the distance. It perplexed Karna that Duryodhana’s favorite brother didn’t seem to show any urgency to come to the rescue.

Was Dusshasana avoiding Bhima?

The Anga king was in a bind. He could not ask Banasena to retreat, that would be cowardly. But at the same time, he was sure the father-son duo would not be able to contain the Pandava’s onslaught. There was only one thing he could do at this time – attack Bhima and keep him busy, so that his son would eventually escape, or reinforcements would arrive to rescue them both.

Karna was wrong.

Bhima saw the concerned father race towards him. He smiled to himself and realized that after all, Karna was as human as everyone else. As a commander, in the midst of a heated battle, he chose to protect his son. Shalya realized how hypocritical Karna was. After the rousing speech in the morning about personal sacrifices, here was his occupant, attempting to insulate his own son from Bhimasena.

For Bhima, this was amusement. He saw an opportunity to demoralize the Kaurava commander. How perfect that his son’s killer should witness his own son die in front of his eyes.

He aimed his arrows towards Karna, wanting to make the Kaurava commander believe that he was not interested in engaging the young man not far behind. He reduced the power in his release, and deliberately missed aim a few times. He was luring his bait in. He wanted Karna to come closer to him.

Karna fell for the ruse. Bhima’s errors emboldened him. He urged Shalya to inch closer to the Pandava, but Shalya expressed reservations.

“I know Bhima, he doesn’t tire that easily. My experience tells me we should keep the distance”

But Karna was in no mood to listen. The sudden opening he thought he had with Bhima, coupled with the fear of his son passing him to engage the strongman, made him temporarily irrational. He brushed aside Shalya’s suggestion and asked him to charge on. Shalya did as was told.

Without slowing down, Karna shot a volley of arrows that Bhima evaded. He kept the ruse on, deliberately allowing his shield take a few hits. He kept looking at the distance between the two chariots, waiting for the right opportunity.

Karna, sensing that he may be gaining upper hand, fired some of his weighted arrows in Bhima’s direction. The Pandava ducked and escaped, again making it look more labored that it actually was. Karna smiled for the first time since the duel began, he was within shouting distance of Bhima. He took out one of his explosive arrows, strung it and shot it in Bhima’s direction. He aimed it right at Bhima’s chest, hoping to blast open his armor, following which he would shoot his sharp poisonous arrows right into his chest. He took out the poison arrow and waited for the detonation, looking in Bhima’s direction. It did not happen.

Instead, he was aghast at what he saw.

As the explosive arrow approached him, Bhima smiled and swerved aside, allowing the arrow to pass him. But shockingly, as the arrow passed him, he caught it, in motion, in mid air, with his bare hand.

Then he swung around with the arrow in hand, and as he did, he loosed the grip on it and let it slide within his closed palm, until his fingers felt the fletching. He tightened the grip again, held it firm, and in a smooth motion, strung it to his own bowstring. He pulled hard, and released. The entire action was performed with the expertise of a magician. The entire act took less than a few moments. The speed and artfulness of the act left Karna and Shalya awed.

The hunter now became the hunted. Karna and Shalya saw the explosive dart heading towards them. Taking quick evasive action, Shalya swerved, allowing the arrow to pass them and explode behind them. Their hearts raced. Karna was flabbergasted, unsure of what to do next. His poison dart was still strung.

But not for long.

The next instant, his bow broke for the second time today. Not from another arrow, but a spear from Bhima crashing through the Karna’s chariot. The spear broke the bow clean, and also dislodged Karna’s crown, exposing his head.

At that moment, Karna realized that all this time, he was being played by Bhima.

He was in mortal danger again. He was too close to Bhima, both his bows were broken, his son would soon be in imminent danger, and he had no answer to this man’s onslaught.

He picked up his spear and pulled himself back to hurl it at the Pandava, but stopped. Bhima’s chariot was now in motion, moving fast towards him. The distance was too short to launch the projectile. Karna’s pulse raced. At that moment, when he saw Bhima coming to get him, he saw death hurtling towards him. Bhima and his chariot looked like a black swirling cloud, rushing to engulf him. He reached for his sword, while muttering to Shalya to brace for impact.

It was only when Bhima was within handshake distance that Karna realized what was going on. The Pandava did not slow down. He was not coming for him. His fear quadrupled instantly, Bhima was headed beyond him, towards Banasena.

Shalya had anticipated this before the king of Anga did. He already set the turn in motion, to give chase to Bhima. He knew the turn would serve one of two purposes. At best, it would be proof of Karna’s resilience, if he could find it in him to still face and defeat Bhima today. At worst, they would already be racing towards the safety of the Kaurava army.

Deep inside, Shalya knew it would be the latter

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