Bheema opened the door to find Kunti outside. Nakula bolted out of bed as she came in to the room.
“What were you two up to?” She demanded, as if they were still children.
“Nothing, mother,” said Bheema, pulling her into a hug. “Just trying to sleep. We need to make an early start.”
She nodded. “Yes,” she said. “Go to sleep,”
She hugged them both before exiting the room.
Bheema picked up the pillow he’d dropped on the floor and gave it to Nakula.
“I’m going to blow off the lamp,” said he.
Nakula nodded. He was already in his bed with the covers drawn up to his chin.
Bheema chuckled as he blew off the lamp. The room was still lit by the faint moon light from outside. Bheema made his way to his own bed. It was more comfortable than he’d expected.
He lay down on the bed but was unable to sleep. Bheema had no wish to disturb his brother and so he lay still. Soon, Nakula’s steady breathing indicated that he was asleep.
Bheema slipped out of the bed. He could not sleep. And he did not want to be tossing and turning all night.
He went to the window and looked outside. The sky had cleared after the storm. The moon floated on the sky and the stars winked at him from above. He could hear the sound of dripping water from the trees on to the ground.
A breeze caressed his face. He lifted his face to it and closed his eyes. He could imagine the invisible fingers of the omnipresent father he had never seen, caressing his face.
Vasusena was having a nightmare. He was in a box being buffeted by waves which threatened to drown him. His screaming was of no use. He was fettered and unable to move. And the air inside the box was being sucked out.
He thrashed about in a vain attempt to free himself. He screamed again, but no sound came. He knew his struggles were of no use now. The end was coming. He made a final attempt to free himself.
“Vasusena!” He woke, disoriented to see a shadow loom over him. His hand caught the man by the throat before reason and awareness returned. He released Krishna.
“I’m sorry,” he muttered. “What were you doing?”
“I could ask the same thing,” murmured Krishna as he coughed and touched his throat gingerly. “You seemed to have been having a nightmare. I was trying to wake you. If I had known you were dreaming of strangling me, I would have stayed away.”
Vasusena turned to his side, facing the wall. The moonlight from the window caused shadows to form on the wall. Inexplicably, he felt a lump rise to his throat.
“I’m sorry,” said he again. “And thank you. Go back to sleep.”
He felt the bed dip as Krishna sat next to him.
“Cousin,” said he. “How long will you hold on to this burden?”
Vasusena was silent.
Krishna sighed. He put a hand on the other man’s shoulder. “They are as innocent as you are. Why do you want to keep punishing them?”
“If I reveal the truth, I will be punishing them.” His voice was muffled.
“You wrong them if you believe that, though I appreciate the concern.”
Vasusena closed his eyes. He did not want to argue.
Krishna’s arms held him. “Just give in,” he whispered. “Please let me tell them the truth.”
Vasusena nodded. He was tired.
Krishna turned him to face him. Vasusena opened his eyes. Krishna’s eyes held gravity, “Are you certain?”
“No,” Vasusena muttered. “I’m not certain. But there seem to be no other way to get you off my back!”
The last was an attempt at humour though there was a tremor to his voice.
Krishna chuckled and leaned forward till their foreheads touched. Vasusena closed his eyes again.
Krishna sighed deeply.
“You have lifted a burden from me too, cousin.”
Vasusena opened his eyes. Krishna’s face was in shadows.
When Krishna spoke, Vasusena heard the raw pain in the other man’s voice. “I destroyed your life when I told you the truth. Do you think it was easy for me to live with that?”
Vasusena put his arms around the other man. “Strangely,” said he. “I never blamed you for it.”
“I know.” Krishna’s arms were round him.
They stayed like that.
Vasusena thought of the village where his wife was waiting. He wanted to go back there. He would stay there for a while. And then he and Padmavathy could go back to Anga. Perhaps, some day, he could crown Vrishasena as King and retire to the woods with Padmavathy.
“Long term plans?” Krishna murmured, amusement in his voice.
“For the first time in my life,” Vasusena said, “I am in a position to make long term plans.”
“And your new found family doesn’t figure anywhere in them?”
He was silent. He did not have the courage to include them anywhere in his life, he realized.
“Don’t be in too much of a hurry to make plans,” Krishna was smiling, his eyes held a mischievous twinkle. “You might need to make a lot of changes. Not to speak of a whole lot of adjustments.”
Vasusena smiled. He was not certain if Krishna was right. But if he was, well, it did not sound too bad.
He grinned. “I am ready.”
And he realized he was, indeed, ready.