“That’s good,” Bakula said, watching Vasushena with a keen eye. Vasushena had cleared an area in the forest so he could practice with the weapons. He was a fast learner, and Bakula knew there wasn’t much more he could teach him. Everything else was practice and experience, and those were things that none could teach. But would the boy understand that? And even if he did, would he accept it? What if he stopped bringing food? Bakula’s ankle was much better now, it was true, but his ankle had been broken and not twisted, and he still was not in a position to leave. He could limp without pain, but without Vasushena’s help he might not be walking now. Vasushena had somehow managed to smuggle him back into the city so a physician could set and bind his ankle, and he’d also carried Bakula back to the cave at his insistence. Though Vasushena had insisted that he could keep Bakula hidden in the city, Bakula knew it was nothing but the foolish certainty of a child who had never been in contact with reality. The boy had capitulated only when Bakula insisted that it would be impossible for him to teach him if they were in the city.
This boy would be a skilled warrior someday. Perhaps one of the best they had ever seen. But that would still depend on whether he could find someone to teach him further, and whether he would be allowed to pursue his dream. Bakula was more certain than ever that this boy wasn’t the son of a Suta. He was the son of a Kshatriya. Not that it mattered. It was a pity if this boy happened to be a Kshatriya, because he had some good qualities. He kept his word, for one. No Kshatriya was known for honouring their promises, though they always made it seem like they did. Vasushena did bring him food, he hunted for him, and cooked for him, and he also brought him clothes. He said his father was teaching him his hereditary work in the evenings. It probably meant the boy was doing with very little sleep, and yet showing no wear. He was always there at sunup. And he never complained about anything. Which was another quality that distinguished him from every other Kshatriya out there. All of them were whiners. Having been born into the ruling class, they behaved as though the world would order itself to suit them, and if it didn’t, they would moan and whine. But the world they lived in did order itself to suit the rulers. The Brahmanas liked to think they wielded the real power, but their power depended on the Kshatriyas. Despite what common people imagined, the Kshatriyas were not dependent on the Brahmanas’ endorsement. Not any more. It might have been true in the past, but not any more. The Brahmanas knew they had to support the Kshatriyas or what little power they had would be lost too.
Vasushena lowered his sword, and asked. “Is everything all right?”
Bakula nodded. “Yes, you’re doing well. I was just thinking.”
“If you’re tired, we can stop.”
“I’m fine. Besides, you need to practice.”
“I’d rather practice my archery.”
“You’re already quite proficient at it, and you’ve practiced it almost all morning. It’s time you had a turn with some of the other weapons.”
“But can’t you teach me more? What about divine weapons?”
“There’s no such thing,” he said. “There are weapons of incalculable destructive powers, but none of them are divine in origin. That’s just propaganda. They are secrets, the creation and deployment known only to a select few.”
“You mean you don’t know them.”
“No. There are only two men in the entire Bharatavarsha who are privy to their secrets at the moment. One is the legendary Parasurama. The other is your Senapati, Bheeshma, who was taught by Parasurama himself. Neither would give away their secrets. Parasurama have sworn an oath that he would never again impart that knowledge to anyone but a Brahmana.”
“But Brahmanas are not warriors, are they?”
“If they want to be, who’ll stop them? Rules are applicable only to the lower echelons. Parasurama is a Brahmana, you know.”
“Why did he make such an oath?”
“I don’t know. Sorry to disappoint you, but I am not omniscient.”
Vasushena grinned. “But you must still know the rumours.”
“Really? You want to listen to gossip?”
“Rumours. And didn’t you tell me that all rumours must have a grain of truth somewhere? That they all must have started with the truth?”
“Did I?” Bakula sighed. “Why do you remember all those inconvenient things anyway?”
“So, what does the rumour say?”
“The rumour says that Bheeshma humbled and humiliated Parasurama in battle using the very weapons that he learned from him. So, Parasurama swore he would never again teach a Kshatriya or anyone except a Brahmana since he considers all other classes to be- dishonourable.”
“Did Bheeshma really defeat him?”
“Yes. That is verifiable fact. Bheeshma and Parasurama did have an altercation from which Parasurama did not emerge victorious.”
“Why did they fight?”
“No one knows. This was all a long time ago, you know. I wasn’t even born then, and all I know is the songs that are sung by the bards. I should think that you would be more well versed in such lore than I am.”
“Because I’m a Suta?” Vasushena asked stiffly.
“Your class are the keepers of all the tales. So yes, one would expect you to be conversant with the stories.”
“I’ve never… that is my mother had told me stories, but only of people who died a long time ago. She hasn’t told me anything about living people.”
“Smart of her. To be honest, it wouldn’t be an intelligent move to tell tales about Bheeshma in his own city.”
“So… they’re just tales? No truth?”
“Like I said, what the bards sing… they might be true in part, but never in whole, and who’s to say which parts are true and which aren’t.”
“And what is this tale that you are so reluctant to tell me?” Vasushena looked at Bakula expectantly. Bakula sighed again. The boy really was too curious for his own good.
“It involves someone whose name it is now forbidden to utter within Hastinapura. The Kasi Princess Amba. The older sister of the two queen mothers.”
“What happened to her?”
“Again, no one knows. Rumours say Bheeshma wronged her and killed her, and that Parasurama fought him for her honour at the behest of her grandfather who had adopted Sanyasa. But, no one knows the truth. And neither Bheeshma nor Parasurama are likely to tell.”
“Did Bheeshma really- do all those things?”
“I don’t know, but it wouldn’t surprise me if I did. Kshatriyas… well… they live by a different set of rules. There’s no act so heinous that would be incapable of by a Kshatriya or a Brahmana.” Bakula tried to keep bitterness out of his voice. Of course, Pradhanamantrin Vidura was neither a Kshatriya nor a Brahmana, but he was proving to be worthy of belonging to either class. And Bakula knew he had to leave soon. If someone noticed Vasushena coming into the forest and followed him, it would not be long before the news spread. He might not be at full strength or health, but he could limp along fairly well. As long as he was careful, there was no reason for him to stay any longer. He would wait one more week to allow his ankle to heal further, and then he would leave.