Prince Dyaus woke up with a shiver down his spine. Cold sweat was streaming down his lithe, sculpted body. He had dreamt of a red moon, a very bad omen among his tribe. He pushed himself to a sitting position on his mattress, immediately wincing as a bolt of pain shot up from his shoulder. He had taken an arrow flush on his right shoulder, which had caused a lot of consternation amongst his infinitesimal army.

He had dismissed the arrow as a lucky hit by one of the archers from his enemy’s ranks and had fought with a ferocity that renewed hopes of his men. But this dream shook him down to his core. He needed to talk to his mother. Dyaus wrapped a shawl around his bare torso and walked out of his tent. He dismissed the sentries and strode towards the small, sandy hillock at the boundary of his camp.

Dyaus hiked to the top, closed his eyes and threw his arms wide open. A gentle breeze caressed his face and he smiled.

“Ma! I knew you would come”, he shrugged away his shawl. The draft wafted through his long, wavy hair and his eyes watered. Many years ago, before her murder, his mother used to tousle his hair not dissimilar to the wind’s present ministrations. Dyaus sat down, cross-legged, on the cold, wet grass and blinked away his tears.

“I dreamt of a red moon Ma. Just like the one on the night of your…” He choked, unable to complete his sentence. Images of his mother, the beautiful Queen Zephyra, being thrown to her death filled his mind. Dyaus was eleven on that fateful day. All he remembered was the acerbic smile of the treacherous King Uttamavarma, the snigger of his troops, his mother plummeting down abetted by the swirling gale and the sinister Red Moon bearing a silent witness to all of it. For the next eight years, revenge was the only thought in the young prince’s mind. Educated, trained and guided by the noble sage Romasha, Dyaus was an erudite young man with the bravery and fighting skills of a Maharathi.*

The moment he felt that he was ready, Dyaus with his Guru’s blessings set about garnering his army to attack King Uttamavarma’s Kingdom of Pruthana. His army stood at a paltry three Anikinis‡, whereas his enemy’s numbered to a gargantuan six Akshauhinis.

Despite being outmatched twenty to one in terms of mere numbers on the field, Dyaus’ valor and knowledge of arcane battle formations had dealt severe damages to the Pruthana army in the first three days. Three of King Uttamavarma’s generals and his bastard son from a concubine had all fallen, scythed down by Dyaus’ broadsword.

But by the time the sun had set for the sixth time over the battlefield, Dyaus’ army had not only rapidly lost numbers, but their morale was dwindling as well. Uttamavarma’s deadly Chakravyuha (soldiers arranged in concentric circular layers) had proved near impossible to defend against. Dyaus’ best friend Vrishasena had been slain during his heroic and ultimately successful effort to extricate his prince from within the clutches of the lethal formation. `

Lamenting his dear friend’s loss and jolted by his dream about the Red Moon, Dyaus was sat somberly atop the hill. The starless night was eerily silent. Dyaus wished to hear some noise, any noise – even the moan of an injured soldier.

“Talk to me Ma. I need your help. Our brave warriors are tired and as a result afraid. How do I instill confidence in their hearts? I have only you to confide in”, he pleaded into the dark night. A sudden warm gust of wind blew from the wrong direction. Dyaus understood immediately. His mother had shown him the way. He would not lose tomorrow.

The next day, much to Uttamavarma’s surprise, Dyaus arranged his army in the very fluid Urmivyuha (formation like ocean waves) and led the charge from the front. His target that day was to get rid of his counterpart in Uttamavarma’s ranks – a young Maharathi, who was being spoken about with much reverence by his own generals. Dyaus had not sighted this Maharathi as Uttamavarma had taken enough precautions to protect his prized asset.

Soon enough Uttamavarma’s armies had flanked Dyaus’ and had started dealing heavy damages. The young prince’s heart bled for the brave men who he had chosen to sacrifice, but he consoled himself with the thought of the sweet victory that he would dedicate to their memories. He paused for a moment from fighting and glanced at the shadow cast by the little hillock. He nodded to his aide who immediately raised a red flag and within moments Dyaus’ forces piled together forming a large living mass.

Dyaus closed his eyes and called out to his mother, “Ma! It’s time.”

The wind howled as a sudden sand storm came rushing towards the battlefield from the direction of the hillock. Uttamavarma’s men were totally unprepared and were immediately blinded. Dyaus’ army, with their backs to the storm, fell upon their foes and shredded them to pieces. Soon, Dyaus spotted Uttamavarma and the other Maharathi and ordered his army to immediately form a Chakravyuh ensnaring the both.

Dyaus watched with growing fascination as Uttamavarma’s Maharathi tore a path of destruction through his formation. He was very impressed with his opponent’s skill and discipline that belied his apparent young age. Dyaus, in a show of respect to his rival, decided to engage him personally. Swords and Maces clashed as the two Maharathis engaged in a fierce battle. The battle around them ceased to a standstill as friends and foes alike stood and watched open-mouthed at the spectacle unfolding before their eyes.

Within minutes, both Maharathis had managed to deal notable damages to each other. Dyaus had got struck in his earlier wound which was now bleeding profusely and his opponent had his helmet knocked out and a deep gash on his cheek. Dyaus glimpsed at his rival. What he saw surprised him, his rival was not a young man but a boy. Yet he fought like a battle hardened veteran. Dyaus paused, removed his helmet and tossed it away. He addressed his opponent

“How old are you, Maharathi?

“Old enough to engage you, Prince Dyaus”, the voice that shot back had not even started to break.

“Would you give me the honor of knowing your name, young warrior?”, Dyaus noted with interest that Uttamavarma in the background had suddenly grown pale.

“I don’t believe we need to make acquaintances in a place where the line between life and death is often as thin as a blade’s thickness, my esteemed rival”, Dyaus did not break eye contact with Uttamavarma. Could it be possible? Had fate thrown him such a huge trump card?

“I think I know your name, young Rathi. You are Yugavarma, Son of Queen Meghrani and the traitor Uttamavarma. Your father has managed to hide you well all these years, but I think he is totally out of luck now.”

Dyaus moved swiftly and threw a handful of sand, that had accumulated in the folds of his vastra, flush into young Yugavarma’s eyes. Uttamavarma’s bellow of rage sounded music to his ears, as Dyaus plunged his sword straight through the young Maharathi’s heart. The boy’s red eyes opened with shock and fixed Dyaus with an accusation of treachery even as he died. Uttamavarma threw down his sword and surrendered, sobbing inconsolably.

Dyaus’ men cheered and raised slogans of victory. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from Yugavarma’s eyes. The boy had fought with valor, but Dyaus had killed him by deceit. His wrath directed at Uttamavarma for his mother’s death had made him act without honor. Suddenly, his victory felt hollow. He dropped his sword and knelt beside the felled warrior.

The cold wind moaned desolately even as raindrops fell on the bloody ground.

*Maharathi’s: A warrior capable of fighting 12 Atirathi class warriors or 720,000 warriors simultaneously, circumspect in his mastery of all forms of weapons and combat skills.

Anikini: Ancient battle regiment containing 2187 Chariots, 2187 Elephants, 6561 Cavalry and 10935 Infantry.

Akshauhini: A regiment equal to 10 Anikinis.

Author’s Note: And so ends my journey through Bar-A-Thon. I have enjoyed my ride thoroughly and I would like to thank my awesome wife, who blogs at Namysaysso.com, for introducing me to BarReads and BarAThon.

A great big thanks to all those who have read, enjoyed, commented and critiqued my stories. You guys are amazing. Please drop in a line if you would like me to improve on something, anything. And do keep dropping in now and then. This edition of Bar-A-Thon might be over, but I will be churning out a lot more tales for your reading pleasure.

Cheers,

Varad.

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