The Night of the Game

A/N: This is a fan fiction inspired by the Dice game sequence in Star Plus’ Mahabharata show. It has no relation to the epic.

I sit there, stunned. My four brothers are now slaves of Duryodhana, but Sakuni’s dice did not listen to him in my case. I am still free. Not only that, I am now the master of Karna, the King of Anga and Duryodhana’s best friend and staunchest ally.

The loss of Karna had affected Sakuni and Duryodhana’s thinking skills as well. For instead of asking my brother to stake me and Karna together, they had asked him to stake Bheema and then himself. I guess Duryodhana’s hatred of Bheema was stronger than his thinking capacity.

“One more round,” Duryodhana says to Yudhistira now. “Arjuna and Karna against the four of you.”

Yudhistira sits back with a half smile.

“I have lost myself,” says he. “I am no longer master of Arjuna.”

Duryodhana turns to me. “One round of dice, Partha. Karna against your brothers!”

I shake my head. I am not my brother. I am no King nor Dharmaraja. I am a warrior and a Kshatriya. I am not bound to accept an invitation to dice.

“No,” say I.

Duryodhana frowns but Sakui looks wary.

“You don’t want to free your brothers?” Duryodhana sounds confused.

In reply, I twang my bow string. The echo of Gandiva’s string reverberates in the hall.

“I only need this to end your life and that of your brothers and to free mine,” say I. “And your mightiest ally is now my slave. If I ask, he shall slay you himself!”

I glance sideways at the King of Anga as I speak. His face might have been carved of stone, but the tightly clenched fists tells their own tale. The man is shaken.

Duryodhana opens his mouth to speak, but Sakuni forestalls him. “Do you think it is going to be so easy? Aren’t you forgetting the great Bhishma and Guru Drona?”

I direct an indifferent glance at the two he mentioned. “I think I can handle them both, especially now that I have Karna on my side,”

I knew I was deliberately rubbing it in, but it was small revenge for what Karna and Duryodhana had tried to do to us. Maybe I was forgetting Sakuni was the main architect of the scheme, but he was insignificant.

“The sun has set,” Pitamaha’s voice breaks the silence. “Neither dice nor war can happen till it rises again.”

“You have one night,” say I to Duryodhana. “Either you free my brothers or I will.” I pause for effect. “And if my brothers are mistreated in any way tonight, there shall be war tomorrow, irrespective of your decision.”

I turn to Karna. “Come,” say I as I walk out of the sabha.

I do not go to the quarters given to us this time, but to the apartments set aside for the King of Anga. I figured since he was my slave, his quarters were now mine.

Karna follow me in silence. I could not guess his thoughts. Not that it mattered. All that mattered were my brothers. I would do anything to free them.

We enters his apartments in silence. As I had guessed, there are no guards. Everyone must have heard that the King of Anga is now a slave. And Pitamaha would have ordered the captain of the palace guards to remove the guards from this apartment.

Four more apartments would remain unguarded tonight. My insides twist in fear as I think of my brothers.

I close the door and bolt it. And then I sink down on to a chair and bury my face in my hands. I do not care that Karna is a witness to my weakness. I cannot trust him, but even less can I afford to send him out when I do not trust him.

I had no doubt that Duryodhana would try some underhanded method to kill me tonight. And I was not going to sleep tonight. But I was not going to let Karna escape whatever Duryodhana had planned for me.

He would not harm my brothers. Not till I was out of his way. I was my brothers’ only hope. My staying alive was necessary for their safety and freedom.

Karna holds out a goblet to me. It is water, I notice. I drink in one gulp. He pours me one more goblet which I empty too.

“Enough,” say I.

Karna sits opposite me, his expression neutral.

“It was a gamble you took,” says he. I shake my head. It was no gamble. I had pushed Duryodhana into a tight corner.

“He might have called your bluff,” Karna persists. “He could ask your brothers to take the field against you tomorrow.”

I shake my head. “My skills would protect myself and them even if they were standing against me.”

“I know that,” says he. “But does Duryodhana?”

I attempt a smile, but my mouth won’t co operate, “Duryodhana might not, but you can be certain Sakuni does.”

“Defeating your Pitamaha or your Guru is not easy, even if the two of us join hands,” says he.

I know it too. But I also know that I only need them out of the way for the time it takes me to kill Duryodhana and his brothers.

I say as much and Karna gives me a strange look.

“If you kill Duryodhana,” says he. “You better not set me free.”

Our eyes meet. I say no word. We both know that one day we shall battle unto death.

I avert my eyes from his. I know he is good, but I am better. If we meet, he shall die.

“Go to sleep,” he says now.

I shake my head.

“Trust me to protect you tonight,” says he.

“It’s not that,” say I. “I won’t be able to sleep tonight,”

My worry must have shown on my face. His expression was unreadable.

“If you trust me,” says he. “I shall get you information on your brothers.”

I shake my head. “Your friend won’t harm them as long as he knows I am alive.”

He does not look angry at my words. Perhaps he knows what Duryodhana is like too.

We stay like that the whole night, still as two statues.

There is a knock at our door as the sun was rising in the eastern sky and Karna is fidgeting.

“Arjuna!” It is Bheema’s voice. “Open the door. “Duryodhana has set us free. He has returned our Kingdom. Open the door.”

I slump in my chair, my relief greater than my joy. Karna rises to open the door, but I stop him.

“If they are free, then I free you.”

I stand up. I myself had not realized how tensed I had been, how worried.

Karna looks at me with that unreadable eyes. Then he nods, just a slight inclination of the head that might have been a bow as well. He moves to the door to open it and my brothers spill into the room. They hug me tight and I them and I see over Nakula’s shoulder Karna being hugged by Duryodhana.

I smile at my brothers. We were safe now. It was time to return to Indraprastha.

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