Vidura was walking down the corridors, frowning. The events of the previous week still fresh in his mind. Queen Gandhari was still in the little hut with the sage Vyasa and his son, and none save her most trusted handmaids had so far been permitted entry. Neither the King nor the queen mothers had been allowed to even see the queen. The handmaids were more scared of the sage’s curse than the king’s punishment and hence no one knew what was going on with the queen. Even the most efficient spies of Vidura were unable to get past the queen’s guard. To Bheeshma’s chagrin, the Senapati’s men were also not able to get past their brothers-in-arms. Kanika kept his men in line and followed the sage’s instructions, even ignoring or disobeying the King, the Senapati and the Pradhanamantrin in the process.
Vidura wondered what he should do with Kanika once this whole debacle was over. Bheeshma was for transferring the man to the farthest provinces of the empire, but Vidura was not in favour of such crude methods. Uncle was losing his touch in his old age. The man should be felicitated and kept in Hastinapura, and a small accident could be arranged, so that none would know what happened. But there would be rumours enough to keep the others in line.
He entered his apartments so lost in thought that he did not realize for a moment that he was not alone. Suka stood in his room, tall and stern looking, quite unlike the priest persona he had sported.
“Sage Suka,” Vidura inclined his head, even as he wondered how the man had managed to enter his apartments.
“The guards of Hastinapura are not as efficient as their reputation says,” Suka answered the question in Vidura’s mind, adding. “Your kingdom’s security needs a lot of improvement, brother.”
Vidura flinched, but there was no reply he could give. The sage was his brother, and he’d already proved how bad the security of the palace was. “Perhaps I could hire you. You are certainly more efficient than all the rest of my men.” He said.
“I’m not for hire, brother. You seem to forget that I’m a sage.”
“Are you insulted? You played spy for your father,” Vidura just could not bring himself to say our father, “but you balk at doing the same for me. I wonder why. Perhaps being a sage means you have to be your father’s lapdog.”
Suka smiled. “Why this vicious a reaction, I wonder. Could it be because father and I have thrown a spoke in your wheel?”
Vidura stilled in the act of pouring himself a goblet of wine. “What do you mean?” His voice was steady, curious, and he was grateful that the sage could not see his face.
“I think you know what I mean,” Suka said calmly. “Father doesn’t know yet who is behind what happened to the Queen.”
“It was you,” Vidura turned to face him. “The priest role, the sage’s presence here- it was all you.”
Suka inclined his head in acknowledgement. “I wanted you to know. Father has some affection for you, and some illusions regarding you. I share neither, but I wouldn’t do anything to disabuse him of his. I also would try my best to thwart your- less than admirable plots.”
“Why should you care?” Vidura grated out. “Why do you even bother?”
“By law, he may be the son of a King, but in fact the King Dhritarashtra is also my brother. Let us just say that I feel father owes him something.”
“So it’s just your sense of justice.”
“Among other things.”
“You mean you’re envious of your father’s affections for me.”
“Even so, there would be no need for me to be here today, had you been- a good man, shall we say?”
“It’s none of your business what I am! And make no mistake, brother, I tolerate no interference. This is the last time.”
“Threats? How crude! And here I thought you were intelligent.”
Vidura glared at the sage, as he turned around and exited the room through the balcony, which was presumably his point of entry too, though Vidura could not see how. There were no trees near the balcony, no vines, no pillars, there was nothing that would enable someone to climb up. And yet, Suka had managed it. But he had bigger problems to worry about. Suka thought himself intelligent, but by revealing himself, he’d proved himself more of a fool. Vidura knew how to cover his tracks, and he’d already taken steps. The cook and the handmaid who had been attending to Gandhari’s needs had both disappeared mysteriously two days ago, but no one was bothered to look for them because everyone had eyes only for what was happening to the Queen. The man who had concocted the special potion that was being added to the queen’s food for the past few weeks had also disappeared. It helped that other than Vidura, almost no one knew of his existence. The go between who lived in the city was the only loose end and Vidura had made arrangements for the man to disappear as well. And as for the assassins who carried out the little clean up, well, Vidura was the Pradhanamantrin, and the King was too busy to attend to little things like the capture and execution of a few assassins. With some planning, the whole thing could be foisted on to them, and to some Kingdom with a grudge against the Kurus. Wars have been fought over lesser matters, after all.
Sakuni was also a problem. The prince of Gandhara appeared hedonistic and lackadaisical, but he was anything but. He might throw a wrench in Vidura’s plans if he suspected anything. Vidura was not concerned about Suka’s knowledge. The man had no proof, nor the resources to obtain any, but Sakuni was a different matter altogether. He also had the King’s ear and enjoyed his confidence. The only relief was that he might not make Hastinapura his permanant residence since he had duties in his own land, though Vidura knew he could not count on it. Sakuni was devoted to his sister. And he just might decide to stay in Hastinapura till he could be certain of her welfare. It was not an ideal situation, but Vidura knew he would need to play his hand carefully now. It would not do if Sakuni were to suspect anything. And he knew that Dhritarashtra’s fraternal feelings for him were weaker than Pandu’s. It amused him that in spite of liking Dhritarashtra better than Pandu, he was now allied with Pandu. And it was admirable that Pandu managed it. His body still remembered the feel of Kunti in his arms, and he knew with a startling clarity that his obsession with her had already made his choices for him.