There was a nip in the air that day. The corridor through which King Dhritarashtra was led to his chambers by Vidura, was open on one side. It was partly a balcony that ran through the outer perimeter of the palace, before it made a right turn to enter the palace. The King and the Prime Minister were conversing in undertones so that the guards would not be able to hear.
“Is all this really necessary?” Dhritarashtra muttered. “What’s going to happen if they hear us?”
“They’re all uncle’s men,” Vidura replied, keeping his head slightly lowered, the King’s hand on his shoulder. “Personally, I wouldn’t trust them not to report any of our conversations to him.”
“And what is so secret about our conversations that it shouldn’t reach uncle’s ears?” At Vidura’s behest, Dhritarashtra too had lowered his head.
“The topic of our conversation is irrelevant,” Vidura said. “There’s no reason why the conversation between the King and the Prime Minister should be reported to the Senapati.”
“You could have a point,” Dhritarashtra conceded. “Or you could just be paranoid. We don’t even know uncle is spying on us.”
“Not through spies,” Vidura murmured, “They’re still in my hands. But definitely through his soldiers. And in some ways, they’re just as effective as spies since they’re everywhere in this palace.”
“So, we speak in whispers, and keep our heads lowered? Why are we keeping our heads lowered anyway?”
“All my spies are adept at reading lips,” Vidura’s tone was bland. “I can’t take a chance that at least some of your guards could be well versed in the art.”
“I still think you’re being paranoid.”
“And I think you’re underestimating the efficiency of the spy networks that we have,”
“How come you have spy networks, and uncle too? Shouldn’t I be the one having spy networks? I’m King after all,”
“That would be logical. But not very practical. The spies I control are all on behalf of the King, and some of the news they bring are not important enough to warrant your attention. It is my job to separate the wheat from the chaff. Otherwise, all your time could be taken up with unnecessary matters.”
“But the same doesn’t apply for the spies uncle maintain?”
“He doesn’t have spies, he has soldiers who report to him. You can’t expect them to report to you, or for uncle to admit he’s spying on you.”
“What if you’re wrong? What if he’s not spying on me?”
“He spied on Pandu, who was his favourite. Why shouldn’t he spy on you?”
“How do you know he spied on Pandu?”
“How else did he know of Kindama’s death before any messenger arrived?”
Dhritarashtra frowned. “You think he forced Pandu to abdicate, don’t you?”
“I know he forced Pandu to abdicate,” replied Vidura.
“I know you don’t like Pandu, but aren’t you being unjust?”
“By imputing Pandu couldn’t do the right thing.”
“So you think that abdication was the right thing to do.”
“Of course! He killed a sage. What else was there to do?”
“In spite of what the sage was doing at the time Pandu killed him?”
“Does that make any difference? If Kindama did wrong, that’s between him and his conscience. Pandu did not have the right to judge him.”
“Pandu was King.”
“And Kindama was a sage and therefore beyond his authority.”
“I can’t agree with that.”
“All the Kings who have ever messed with sages have come off worse. Pandu should’ve remembered that,” Dhritarashtra sounded defensive.
“So, it’s not about whether Pandu had the authority, or whether he was right, but that Pandu should’ve realized there are consequences and so shouldn’t have done it.”
Dhritarashtra frowned. “I know you’re clever. You don’t have to twist my words and argue with me to prove it. I just feel… that Pandu did wrong in killing Kindama.”
“Naturally,” Vidura said drily. “Since that helped you become King.”
“You hold me in contempt, don’t you?” Dhritarashtra asked after a moment.
“Actually, I don’t,” Vidura said contemplatively. “Pandu I held in contempt, but not you. And even if I did, it is not for the reasons you think.”
“You mean, my blindness doesn’t bother you.”
“I don’t see why it should.”
“It seems to bother everyone else,”
“We’ve reached your chambers.”
Vidura stepped away from the King as the guards opened the doors to the room, and led the King inside. They withdrew, as the King’s own servants and attendants took over.
Dhritarashtra was stripped, and was led to a table where he was oiled, massaged, and later led to a pool to be washed. Once he was dressed, he was led to the Anthahpurah to the queen’s chambers where his wife was waiting for him.
“You seem tense,” Gandhari said, as she placed her hand on her husband’s arm. Her maids and the King’s servants had all withdrawn from the room, leaving them alone. “What happened?”
“Vidura,” Dhritarashtra sighed, as he groped his way to the bed, and sat down on it. “I don’t know if he’s mocking me or not.”
“That is all?”
“He says uncle’s guards are spying on us.”
Gandhari was silent, though her hand tightened on her husband’s arm. “I hope not,” she said now, worried. “If so, it means that uncle doesn’t trust you.”
“I think I should have my own spies,” Dhritarashtra said, frowning. “I don’t like it that Vidura gets to pick and choose what news from the spies comes to me. I need my own spies to spy on him and uncle.”
Gandhari sighed. “I think you should leave them to do their jobs. All this intrigue… you aren’t suited for that.”
Dhritarashtra deflated. “I know. It was just a thought.”
“If it’s important to you, I shall send word to my brother.”
“Yes. He has been handling everything for my father for so many years. He can advise you.”
“But he’ll be needed in Gandhara, won’t he?”
“A short visit won’t do any harm. And if he feels you should have spies of your own, he’ll train them too.”
“Neither Vidura nor uncle likes Sakuni,” Dhritarashtra sounded thoughtful.
Gandhari stiffened. “He’s my brother. And what does it matter what they feel? Aren’t you the King?”
“So I am. Let’s invite Sakuni,”