Merciless

Continued from here

The swift anticipatory turn by Shalya helped Karna catch up with Bhima and come alongside him. Banasena was not too far ahead, so Bhima needed to be engaged immediately.

His preferred weapon was the arrow, but with both his bows broken, Karna’s choice was limited. He hurled the spear he held towards the Pandava’s chariot, aiming at the wheel in the hopes of breaking it. Bhima, much too fast for the Kaurava commander, broke the spear with his own. Karna picked up another, but before he could hurl it, Bhima broke it again, with one of his own.

Karna was unable to comprehend. How was Bhima able to react with such speed?

The two chariots fast approached Banasena, who was now circling the area, waiting for the outcome of this duel. He had long stopped firing his arrows, deciding instead to watch in awe at this giant of a man move with the agility of a deer, and fight with the ferocity of a lion.

Karna instructed his chauffeur to bring Bhima to a stop, by ramming his chariot and horses with the Pandava’s. It was evident that he was desperately trying to prevent Bhima from approaching within striking distance of his son, knowing fully well the outcome of such approach. Shalya did as was told, and began swerving into the Pandava’s chariot, their respective horses brushing each other at breakneck speed.

Bhima was irritated at this illegal move. He decided to take Karna head-on. He ordered his chariot stopped, and with his sword in hand, jumped off. His other hand held a spear, pointed towards Banasena, ready to be released.

Karna saw this, and ordered Shalya to stop, while picking up a sword and jumping off the chariot himself.

A small audience gathered, to watch this interesting duel. Neither was using their weapon of choice, one at which they were the best. It should be a fight among equals. But, from what was evident until now, Karna was no match to Bhima, even at archery. The situation, and Karna’s mental state was obvious to everyone. It was also evident in the mindset of the two warriors out in the middle.

Only one man held a shield for protection.

The Kaurava commander approached cautiously, lunging, jabbing and retreating. Karna had learnt and trained swordsmanship under Parashurama. He was certainly no novice. But here he was clearly intimidated by Bhima’s larger form. Bhima was no amateur, but he held the advantage of raw power again. His larger form and wider swing generated enormous strength, making it difficult for his opponents.

The duel went on for several minutes, with Karna circumspect with his attack and Bhima parrying almost everything Karna threw at him. Still, only one man held a shield for protection. The other had the spear firmly in his hand, using it as a support pillar.

To the audience, it was clear that Bhima was toying with Karna. They locked swords several times, only for Karna to be pushed and propelled back in the air. Shalya noticed that Karna was tiring, and getting erratic in his attacks as a result.

Bhima finally decided it was time to end this child’s play. The next time their sword guards locked in, he used his shoulder strength to gently push Karna back, far enough to not be in mortal danger, but near enough to reach his weapon.

Then in a swift motion, he used his spear to prop up Karna’s falling sword. The blade stood straight up. Bhima then used his full strength to cut Karna’s blade, the tip of his own sword passing within inches of the commander’s nose.

Karna stood stunned, his sword blade cut in half, and he had no clue what hit him. He fell back, anticipating Bhima to thrust the spear into his chest. But nothing of the sort happened.

Instead, Bhima took a few steps back, and sheathed his sword. He looked at Karna intensely, his eyes spewing a combination of anger and pity towards the Kaurava commander. He then walked back to his chariot, and mounted it.

His focus switched to the son.

Banasena had been watching the duel from a distance. He thought for a moment to illegally jump in. But his broken bow and the course the duel was taking kept him away, at a safe distance. He now saw that his father was in distress, and wanted to reach him. But the approaching Pandava cart distracted him. He was in two minds. The confusion in his mind caused a vital delay in his reaction time. Bhima was almost upon him. Banasena was completely paralyzed for response.

Karna saw the direction Bhima was headed, and quickly scrambled to his feet. He ran to his chariot and searched for a weapon. His both bows were broken, so he could not shoot any arrows. The only projectile he could lay his hands on was a spear. He picked to launch.

But it was too late. Bhima’s chariot was right beside Banasena’s.

As Karna watched the two chariots come alongside each other, Bhima leaped over his cabin into the tiny chariot of Banasena. A frozen Banasena did not offer any resistance as Bhima quickly disarmed him, picked him up with both hands and held him flat above his head.

Karna visualized Bhima throwing Banasena to the ground and thrusting his sword or spear into him.

Again, he was wrong.

Bhima alighted the Kaurava chariot and waited for his own to come around.

It was Karna’s turn to be paralyzed. He knew that if he launched any weapon in Bhima’s direction, the weapon would find his own son before it even went anywhere near Bhima. He stood motionless, watching a horror unfold in front of his eyes.

Bhima, still with his hands up above holding Banasena, boarded his chariot and motioned forward. The chariot inched slowly towards Shalya and Karna. They now understood Bhima’s intentions. He just didn’t want to kill Banasena. He wanted his father to have the ringside view.

Bhima’s chariot pulled up alongside Karna’s. The cabs lined up next to each other, facing opposite directions. Shalya’s advantage of two extra horses offset by the fearful presence of Bhima holding a fully grown person up above his head, like he would a staff of wood, ready to break.

Karna’s eyes swelled up, as the impending grief took over him. He let go of the spear, and joined his palms together, pleading for mercy.

It was a mighty fall from for the commander of an army who had preached ruthlessness a few hours ago.

Bhima lowered his victim and freed him from his grip for a few moments. Fear consumed Banasena as he stood motionless, facing his assassin. Bhima alternated his looks between Banasena and Karna, seemingly reading their reactions, taking pleasure. Deep down, he felt sorry for what he would do to this young man, but he despised the occupant in the other cart more than he valued his own righteousness.

He slowly reached for the young man’s neck with his palm and pulled the terrified Banasena towards him. He then spun him around and put the young man’s neck in an arm lock. Slowly but decisively, he increased the pressure on his victim’s neck. Banasena’s lungs struggled for air; his breath became shallow.

Bhima’s arm tightened around Banasena’s neck, slowly cutting off oxygen. He then picked up the young man off the floor, to display his struggle to his father.

Bhima never loosened his grip. The sound of his cervical vertebrae cracking sent shivers down Shalya’s spine. Banasena did not live another day. The last thing the young man saw was incessant tears rolling down his father’s cheeks, as he silently pleaded for his son’s mercy.

No pity was shown.

But Bhima did something nobody expected him to do.

He shut the lifeless eyes of Banasena, took the dead prince’s body and placed it back in his chariot. He covered him with a piece of satin cloth from the cab, and asked the charioteer to take him away from battle, to the Kaurava camp.

He turned back and looked at Karna, who was a wreck now. He could easily have taken Karna’s life at this present time. All he needed was one arrow. But he chose not to. He wanted Karna to live another day with two truths realized: that his son died while he lived, and that his life was spared by the mighty Bhima.

Before Karna reacted hastily, Shalya whipped his horses to take off, and they went off, retreating towards the Kaurava side.

Bhima turned towards the Kaurava side too, his sights now set on a long standing revenge.

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