That night was longer than the years of exile. He felt a lack of identity that put to shame the year spent incognito. Complacency was not an excusable offence for any warrior on the battlefield, not in the slightest when the only man who was capable of deploying weapons more lethal than fate and skill were capable of protecting him stood on the other side, licking his lips at the prospect of victory. He wore the blessing of Shakti as an armour but when all was said and done, if he let fatigue distract him into getting his better, Shakti would not be answerable. He alone would be answerable to his brothers, his wives, their sons, his sons but most of all, to the boy that couldn’t be distracted from a sparrow’s iris by childlike curiosity, to the boy who practiced archery alone in the dark so his aim would not remain slave to his vision. When all was said and done and the fatal arrow had pierced his chest, obliterating Shakti’s gift, stopping his heart in an instant and bringing his saga to an abrupt halt, how different was he from that lowly born upstart who cheated his way into an education unbefitting of him? When all was said and done, his lapse in concentration would be as deadly as the brahmin’s curse whose cow had been accidentally murdered.

Surely and subtly, the night brooded along, trudging away at his peace of mind. He felt the charred skin on his head as he ran his fingers through his hair. Everyone around him was asleep. The darkest part of the night was doing a dance of depravity as weary warriors slept breathlessly in the stupor that only dawn would relinquish.

Paarth rose up from padmasana, slipped into his silk tunic and somberly walked out of the bivouac through the dark, inclement abyss across the river to the chamber of a light-sleeping woman who was still in mourning over the demise of her son.

Subhadra, he whispered fully aware that the brushing of silk against his gash had already awoken her.

A solitary tear squeezed through the orifice as her eyelids parted. The skin on her face and neck had turned pruny from the many ounces of grief. It still glowed because of the countless baths in the milk of Mathura’s cows. It was that very innate fragrance of fresh milk that had rendered him lovestruck for the first time in his life. This was the woman who kidnapped her lover initiating a most peculiar gandharva vivah. This was the woman who didn’t get to be with her husband for better part of their life together while he exiled and performed penance in the forest and she raised their son, the fearless warrior who perished valiantly, not before having saved the day.

You will not be distracted again. Every fibre of your being is mortgaged unto me until you avenge my son from the monsters that murdered him. Until then, you do not have permission to succumb to your senses or mortality. All celebration must wait until then. Take your lust away from my sight. If you return victorious tomorrow, I will deck up and be your reward. Grief burns me just as it burns you but we must not give in to what is base when circumstances demand from us a character that is fitting of Shiva and Shakti.

She doused a lamp with her pinch and drew a tilak on his forehead with the paste of ghee and burnt wick. At the cusp of dawn, nothing and nobody, no force – terrestrial or extraterrestrial, no weapon – physical or metaphysical, nor thirst, nor hunger, nor fatigue would vanquish his attention.

If the charioteer’s son somehow manages to invoke his treacherously acquired bramhastra, mine will obliterate him into a million pieces first. Today the blood that boils inside me will fuel my arrows like steam tenderizes the stiffest of meats. Saying so, Paarth left to ready himself for battle.