Story 1: Prince Uttar finds a charioteer

#1
Author's note: Switching to story form for a bit just to practice my writing skills. Will continue here if there is enough interest.

More about Brihannala on my twitter account:



The soldier stumbled into the grand palace of Matsya’s Prince Uttar, petrified with fear. He could barely stay on his feet as he staggered into the hall where the young prince sat on his bejewelled throne, surrounded by the ladies of the court and a few courtiers. Panting heavily, the soldier managed to choke out a few words, his tone steeped in terror, “Army…. Attacking from our right. Hastinapur is attacking us…” The atmosphere in the room instantly changed; a frisson of anxiety went through the room, an almost palpable tension settled into the air. The courtiers tried not to look as alarmed as they felt, the ladies looked scared and with good reason. Hastinapur was not an enemy to be taken lightly and Matsya was defenceless.

Early in the morning, even before sun rise, the Matsya army had ridden out to meet and stop the Trigarthas who had mounted an attack from the left. Ever since, messengers had been coming in carrying news about the battle between King Virat’s forces and King Susharma’s troops.

The king, his brother and eldest son were all engaged in battle. The four Pandava brothers in disguise were in the middle of the battle as well, steadily turning the tide in King Virat’s favour, without giving themselves away. But with the army entirely engaged with Susharma, Virat had easily fallen into the trap laid by Duryodhana. Having made sure that the entire Matsya army was completely engaged in battle, the Kauravas attacked the defenceless city from the opposite side with a view to ransacking the riches and plundering the prosperous kingdom.

Within the city’s fortified walls, a few more alarmed messengers ran in to the young Prince’s palace with the news that the Kaurava army was fast closing in. They had not expected this in the least, else the kingdom would not have been left unprotected, bereft of its army. But now?? What was to be done now?? It was all up to the young prince.

“I shall battle with them all, rout them, send them running and bring all our cattle back. But alas, I do not have a charioteer. Mine was killed in the last battle. If only I could ride out to face the enemy, the Kauravas would believe that it was Kounteya Arjuna who was giving them battle today,” the boy bragged, eager to impress the women around him in his luxurious palace. “If only I had a charioteer capable of matching my valour, I would give them such a battle….Ah, they would see that it is not just Arjuna they have to fear.”

As the prince repeatedly took Vijaya’s name, the disguised Draupadi could no longer contain herself. Stepping forward, she spoke “Prince, Brihannala has been Prince Arjuna’s charioteer. When Partha destroyed Khandava, it was Brihannala who drove his chariot. Courageous, highly skilled, well trained by Prince Arjuna himself, Brihannala is just the charioteer you need.”

The Princess Uttaraa was sent to fetch her dance teacher at once. The disguised Arjuna heard the summons and sighed. Arjuna would NEVER have left the kingdom unprotected like this and taken the entire army to the battle front. But then, this was not Arjuna’s kingdom, he was the not the one responsible for its safety nor the one making military decisions. But if it was Hastinapur attacking and Prince Uttar was planning on facing them alone…. No, he could not sit back and let the child go out. He was just about as old as Abhi...

Brihannala strode out quickly, her pace and stance in unusual contrast with her danseuse’s garb, the numerous conch bangles jingling on her wrists and the flowers in her long braid. She slowed down as she approached the Prince Uttar’s lavish quarters and entering, bowed low. “Your command, prince.”

“Brihannala, you shall drive me to battle! Here is your armour,” declared Uttar kumar.

Brihannala feigned surprise and apprehension. “Me, prince?? What do I know of battle?? Oh, how do I wear this armour?” she said, pretending to wear it upside down in confusion.

Prince Uttar roared with laughter and indulgently stepped down from his throne to get the armour fastened on his sister’s ‘confused’ dance teacher. “Come on, Brihannala, do not fear, I shall protect you and we shall return in no time at all after vanquishing those arrogant Kauravaas,” he announced confidently as he strode out. Brihannala followed at a more sedate pace, directing a brief glance at Draupadi as the duo passed her.

‘Take care of the prince,’ Panchali said without speaking a word and Brihannala’s brief dip of the head reassured her. The prince was under the protection of Vijaya. She had nothing to fear.

.

.

.

Prince Uttar’s silver and gold chariot rumbled out of the city’s huge gates, the golden banner depicting a roaring lion fluttering as it sped away from the fortifications of the city. Drums and trumpets blared as the city gathered for a great send- off to the prince for his battle. The mood was celebratory, people thronged the streets for glimpse of the young Uttarkumar, standing tall and proud in the chariot, eager eyes taking in all the adulation he was getting.

“Don’t worry, Uttaraa,” he called out to his little sister who was watching them from the balcony of her place. “I shall bring back the best silken cloths for your dolls. The very best that Hastinapur’s princes wear,” he laughed.

Guiding the horses, Brihannala, armour now strapped over crimson garb, long braid knotted up out of the way, wished the boy would not brag so much even before he had set sight upon the enemy. The horses flew out of the gates, responding to the skilful navigation of the warrior prince turned charioteer. As he directed the chariot towards the far right where the Kaurava army stood ready to attack, Arjuna spared a glance backward at the prince.

Prince Uttar was clad in his royal golden armour shining bright and unblemished. Polished to perfection, intricately carved and reinforced with bright new leather straps, he struck a very heroic picture. However, at the very first glance at the pristine armour, Arjuna had permitted himself a vexed sigh. The armour did not look like it had seen much use, which meant that the prince had barely seen war from up close. And now he would face the mighty Kaurava army. Pitamah, Acharya Drona, Acharya Kripa, Guruputra Ashwattama…. Prince Uttar had no idea what kind of task he had taken upon himself…..

He found out soon enough. The mere sight of the unending lines of Kaurava soldiers arrayed in the distance all clad in their ominous grey uniforms had made the Prince’s body go cold. By the time Arjuna had driven close enough for the prince to see the great chariots of Pitamah and Duryodhana, the Prince had already begun to whimper with fear. The flags on the chariots became visible as Arjuna drew nearer and Uttar could take no more.

“Nooooo,” he wailed aloud, his voice quaking in fear, “No, Brihannala, don’t go any further. Turn back. Turn BACK this instant. I can’t fight this ocean. No one can. There are thousands here. What can I do, one young, inexperienced prince against these veterans!!??? Turn back, Brihannala, take me back to the safety of my palace. Let the women laugh at me, let my father berate me, let the courtier and ministers call me a coward. I don’t care. I cannot even look at this army without feeling faint. Turn back NOW,” he cried, desperate.

Arjuna shook his head exasperated. He had expected Uttar would balk once he actually saw the enemy but he had not thought that he would actually want to run. Keeping his tone as soft and low as possible to disguise his voice, he spoke even as he drive the prince relentlessly toward the Kaurava army array, “Prince, we cannot run back. You are a warrior, a kshatriya prince. Death would be better than running away like a coward. Face the enemy and prove to your gurus that their teaching did not go in vain.”

Uttar’s repeated entreaties went unheard and Brihannala simply ignored him and drive on. The chariot drew up close enough for the prince to make out the glitter and gleam of thousands of weapons held by the Kaurava soldiers and the imposing chariots of the leaders. He could take it no more.

Throwing caution to the winds, Uttar leaped off the moving chariot and began to run back to the safety of the city of Matsya. In the charioteers’s seat, Arjuna felt the jolt as the prince made his escape and he turned back in astonishment only to see the fleeing prince’s back. For a second, he sat there shocked into inaction that the prince had actually so little regard for his own repute. And then shaking his head, Arjun hopped off the chariot and began to chase after Uttar.

Uttar would be a part of this battle today, whether he wished it or not. No kshatriya prince would run from battle under his watch. NO ONE!

A few miles across, the Kaurava army stood and watched curiously at the events that were unfolding. First, a single chariot had rumbled out to face them with a single warrior stationed atop it. As it had come closer, they had been able to discern the figure holding the reins. Was it a woman who drove the chariot?? It certainly looked like that- the charioteer’s garb was feminine.

Acharya Drona had been taken aback at the sight of the sole warrior. His keen eyes had taken in the stance of the warrior and realized that it was the trembling posture of a novice, unaccustomed to battle. Then why?? Why had he come out to face Hastinapur’s mighty force alone? What he suicidal?

Busy trying to figure out what brought the young warrior here, Drona had not paid attention to the charioteer at first. It was only when the warrior had suddenly jumped off the moving chariot, begun to run and the charioteer started in pursuit that the acharya’s gaze shifted.

Drona’s brow furrowed in puzzlement. A woman?? The charioteer was a woman?? The fluttering red garb was that of a woman’s. Oh, that long braid that just now come undone, the tresses streaming behind her certainly proved it was a woman who guided the horses. Why had the two come to the battlefield just to run away?? No wait, the charioteer was not running away. It seemed like she was running behind the warrior to make him stop and come back.

The Kaurava soldiers watching the scene unfold began to laugh uproariously. The sight of the fleeing warrior and the woman running after him was hilarious and the many raucous comments and taunts clearly stated what the soldiers thought.

But Drona’s attention was not on any of this. He watched, suddenly uneasy, as the charioteer raced after the warrior. There was something very familiar about that charioteer, the tall, lean form, the way she ran, that easy gait…. Who did it remind him of?

As the Kauravas watched, doubling over in laughter, the charioteer easily caught up with the running warrior. Then after a brief conversation, she quickly bent down, hauled the warrior up, slung him over her shoulder and strode back effortlessly restraining the squirming, protesting warrior. Reaching the chariot, she dumped him on it unceremoniously, quieting him with a glare and then strode over to take the reins once more. But this time, the chariot did retreat.

No, wait, it wasn’t moving back towards the city. Instead it was moving off towards the dense forest to the left. The soldiers laughed even louder but Drona’s brow was furrowed with worry. The fact that a single warrior had come out to face them. The woman in the charioteer’s seat who seemed determined to fight even if the warrior did not. The way she had casually bundled up the warrior and brought him back. The fact that the chariot had moved off not towards the city but towards the forest. It all did not add up. The guru shot at annoyed glance at the laughing soldiers, wishing they realized that something was not quite right here not quite as simple as they believed.

Drona’s gaze went to the Pitamah only to find him staring back at him with the same query in his eyes as he had in his own. What had just happened? Was it a simple case of a cowardly warrior fleeing from battle? Had the battle been won even before it started?.... Or had Duryodhana committed the most foolish mistake of his life by deciding to attack Matsya assuming that she had no protector?
 




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