Bharat studied the geography of the region and realized that the best way to stop an influx of the enemy was to station troops at a point where the invading marauders could be intercepted. When he mentioned the same to Vishwamitra and the senapati, they nodded in agreement and suggested that the outskirts of Pushkalwati would be ideal.
The Brahmarishi said, ‘Kapish Pass is named thus because it is better travelled by monkeys than men. Rather than expose our soldiers to its terrain unnecessarily, let’s wait for the Kambojs to suffer through it before facing our onslaught. The Pahlavs, on the other hand, have very wisely avoided the limitations offered by the terrain. My spies inform me that they have decided to go around the Sindhukush, bypassing the mountains altogether, and are on their way to Hariva and Shakasthan with the Parada troops.’
While the entire council reflected on this new information, Bharat’s uncle Vasu said, ‘They will have to fight their way through the confederacies of Hetumant to reach the Sindhu region. Our chances of catching them off guard are better than intercepting the Kambojs. The obvious choice according to me would be the Brihan Pass that cuts through the Karka mountains. It is a narrow stretch of land running through tall, rocky mountains and will severely limit the inflow of troops unless they go all the way down to the sea and come at us along the coast.’
Bharat said, ‘The troops that we had sent earlier are already stationed at the city of Kuwatah. Senapati ji, please send bird couriers immediately asking them to take positions around the Brihan Pass. I would advise you to head there as well while I move to Pushkalwati. The danger is more imminent there and once I have controlled that, I shall join you in Kuwatah.’
Vikramjeet bowed his head in acknowledgment of the order and said, ‘I shall be honoured to serve the Puru kingdom at the western border, Maharaj. Not that you shall need their help, but please take my excellent seconds-in-command with you for the siege in the north. A quarter of our cavalry and infantry are already stationed there. I shall send my fastest riders ahead of you to give them their orders.’
Bharat agreed to the suggestion gratefully. For all his bravado he was yet to experience a real battle and it made sense to have two experienced generals with him. ‘We also have the support and blessings of Maharaj Rohitashwa. The Suryavanshi troops have been placed on maximum alert and will help us guard our eastern borders while we focus on the west.’
Vishwamitra was glad that he had taken Bharat to Ayodhya while he was a child; the friendships forged then were coming in handy now. They set about discussing the division of the troops that would allow them to send sufficient soldiers to the borders as well as leave enough to guard the rest of the kingdom.
After the discussions were over he went to meet Jahnavi. Memories of their first night together were still fresh in his mind and he longed to return to her arms. This would be their second night together, and their last before he left for the battle. The new queen of Hastinapur greeted him with a warm embrace. She was both shy and eager as he tilted her chin to kiss her on the lips. Her response made him bolder and he lifted her into his arms and carried her to the large mahogany bed. She clung tightly to him as he kissed her all over her face and neck. Their desire consuming them completely, they removed each other’s clothes in earnest. They knew they wouldn’t see each other for weeks, possibly months, and their frantic love-making reflected the loneliness that had already begun engulfing their hearts. It turned into a fiery passion that burnt their minds and joined their bodies as one until a final moment of ecstasy left them gasping with its intensity.
Spent, they lay wrapped in each other’s arms, discussing the impending future. ‘We knew what we were getting into, isn’t it?’ Jahnavi said, ‘The very reason for our hastily organized wedding was that the enemy was knocking at our door.’
Bharat nodded slowly, playing with her hands decorated with intricate patterns of mehndi. Jahnavi spoke in a voice brimming with confidence, ‘Go perform your duty as a Kshatriya and the upholder of Dharma. I wish I could accompany you but given my utter lack of military knowledge I will only be a hindrance. I shall pray to the Mother Goddess and await your victorious return just as Shachi waited for Indra’s return to Swarg after defeating the dragon Vritra.’
Bharat embraced her tightly and confessed, ‘Before I met you I had never felt this kind of trepidation, but ever since you’ve become a part of my life, the thought of not being near you makes me anxious. I shall punish the barbarians for taking me away from you and serve them a defeat they will not forget in a hurry!’
Jahnavi smiled at his declaration. Ruffling his hair, she said, ‘There’s the Daman I married! It is time to fulfil the name you were born with: Sarvadaman, conqueror of all. I am confident you will secure the borders of Nabhi-varsh and teach the invaders such a lesson that they will think twice before challenging our nation again.’
Even though she had said the words in full confidence, her heart worried about his welfare and she silently prayed to the gods to keep her husband safe, vowing to do so every single day till he returned safe and sound into her arms.
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