Atiratha sank on to the floor of his house wearily. His shoulder was stiff and aching, and he tried to rotate it to alleviate the pain and stiffness. The whole day had been spent in driving around various members of the royal family to all parts of the city. The whole Kingdom was rejoicing, but the members of the royal family all had grim faces. One would have thought they were attending funeral processions instead of celebrations of childbirth. Eight royal children! Atiratha could not remember the last time such a thing might have happened. There were stories of Kings who had had more children, but never eight at once. As one among the race of storytellers and bards, Atiratha was familiar with most of the stories of the Kings of Hastinapura, though he had not pursued story telling as a profession, choosing to be a charioteer instead. It was not a career of first choice for most Sutas, but they all accepted the practicalities. One son from every family had to be a charioteer. Otherwise they knew the Kshatriya royalty would soon strip them of even the little choice they had. After all, Kings needed charioteers more than story tellers.
The King and his brother-in-law were both angry that day. The Senapati Bheeshma had been grim, and the Pradhanamantrin Vidura forbidding. The Queen mothers who visited various temples, had all been worried. The Queen Gandhari was still confined to the royal apartments. Atiratha did not know what caused the reactions in the royals. After all, it was an occasion of joy, and the whole Kingdom was celebrating. He only wished he could have been able to celebrate it with his family. But now he was home, and he was tired, and his family was not back from the celebrations. On an impulse, Atiratha rose and went to the backyard. There was a large tree there, and underneath it was buried the box that Vasushena had been in. That day was still fresh in Atiratha’s memory. That box still held one of the coins and the piece of cloth the baby had been wrapped in, both with a strange emblem on it. That emblem was probably the only link his son had to his real identity. The inside of the box had been coated in a light metallic film with the same emblem worked on it. It resembled a rising sun surrounded by stars, which, as far as Atiratha knew, did not belong to any royal family.
He went back inside the house, and out the front. The celebrations were likely to continue late into the night, and all his tiredness notwithstanding, he needed to go there if he wanted to see his family. He followed the sound of music, and the fireworks that started to light up the darkening sky. Once the night fully fell, the sky would be a riot of coloured lights and the noise would be deafening. Right now it was mostly drums, and Atiratha could feel their beat reverberate across his whole body. It was as if there were giant drums inside his body that were beating in time with the drums.
“Father!” Sangramajith had a big grin on his face as he suddenly appeared at Atiratha’s side and grasped his hand. “You’re here!”
Atiratha smiled at his youngest as he hoisted him on to his shoulder. “Where’s your brother?” He had to shout to make himself heard over the noise of the drums, the fireworks and the crowd.
“Must be with his friends. I lost him in the crowd. Mother is over there,” the child pointed, and now, Atiratha could make out Radha chatting animatedly with the other women. A soft smile appeared on his lips. She looked happy. His eyes scanned the crowd for Vasushena, but he could not find him. He saw Asmita, and Veera, but Vasushena was not with them. Atiratha was not too worried, though. It wasn’t easy to notice anyone in this crowd, especially with the noise and the fireworks. Besides, Vasushena was neither small nor sickly any more. He was old enough, and definitely able to make it home on his own.
Radha caught his eye and smiled at him, and he started moving towards her. She said something towards the other women, and Atiratha still could not understand how these women could make themselves heard or understood amidst all the noise. They certainly were not shouting. She approached him, and took Sangrama from him. The child looked tired, and as soon as he was in his mother’s arms, he lay his head against her shoulder and closed his eyes. Atiratha smiled at his wife, and gestured to her to follow him, as he walked back towards their house. Once home, Radha laid the sleeping Sangrama down on to his pallet and said. “You ought to bring Vasushena back.”
“Let him enjoy the celebrations. He’s old enough.”
“You have a headache,” she said, placing a hand over his forehead.
“The noise,” he said. “And the exertion. I’m not getting any younger.”
“You shouldn’t be exerting too much,” she scolded. “That shoulder needs care.”
“It’s not like I’ve a choice,” he said. “We both know that. At least we’re free, not like the Dasas.”
“Yes,” she nodded. “That is something, I guess.”
“Are you hungry?” She asked, as she started massaging his shoulder.
“No, I had food.” He smiled. “I can stay home with Sangrama. If you want to go back to the celebrations, and catch up with your friends on all the women things you want to talk about…”
“We won’t be able to talk now that the fireworks have started,” she said. “The drums were bad enough, but the fireworks make it just impossible to see or hear anything. Besides, I’ve been on my feet all day, and I’m happy to be resting.”
He nodded, as he leaned against her, closing his eyes. She was soft and warm and he was beginning to feel drowsy as her fingers started to card through his hair. He hoped Vasushena would come home soon. Radha would not sleep till he did and he did not want her to stay up long.