“Begging your pardon, maharishis,” said an attendant who had appeared at the doorway. He bowed and announced King Jarasandha.

The king arrived and paid his respects; and enquired after the comfort of his brahmana guests. They assured him of their full satisfaction. Jarasandha sat on the floor at the feet of his visitors.

“Is it already past midnight?” said Bheema. He did not notice Krishna’s smile; the avatar of the All-Knowing One can compress time as he wished.

“I remain intrigued too, O Honoured Guests,” said Jarasandha. “I was enjoying the sunset with my beloved wife beside me. We witnessed the sun dive before our very eyes and throw up the black curtain of night. My wife fears the omens, and like all loving wives, she worries for her husband’s safety. Women carry a terrible burden, do they not? They worry for their loved ones while burning away their lives.”

“It’s a role they have chosen,” said Krishna.

“But I assured my wife that your presence comforts me,” said Jarasandha. He sighed and smiled and looked Krishna in the eye. “I’m no fool and you’re not a brahmana. You’re Krishna. Did Yama bid you to come here with these Pandava assassins to collect my life?”

“You’re better informed than I expected,” said Krishna. His perennial smile masked the thoughts that threatened to break out of his eyes. Bheema and Arjuna tensed, but seeing Krishna’s calm demeanour, they remained seated but alert.

“What for this shameful charade in the middle of the night, O Krishna, O Mighty Bheema, and O Flawless Warrior, Arjuna? Have you come to murder me? Meet me in open battle in the field. Boast your courage; win an honest victory over me, if you can. Then, Yudhishthira can conduct his Rajasuya.”

“We can defeat you, Magadhi, but an open battle will cost many innocent lives on both sides,” said Bheema.

“Magadhi? Why do you address me so, O Bheemasena, Wielder of the Vrigodharam? Have I ever spoken in disrespectful words to you? Do you think I am a mere naga, O Son of Vayu? Oh yes, I know how your Lord Krishna here, helped you defeat the boy-prince, Aswasena, King Takshaka’s son, and Mayasura and his people. Are sorcery and mysticism the weapons of a true kshatriyan?”

“Your tongue will rot for casting aspersions on someone as pristine as Krishna,” said Bheema. He stood and dropped his brahmana shawl. Proud round muscles covered his torso, arms and legs. And in his hand, he wielded a massive mace, Vrigodharam, the weapon that can crack a bull elephant’s skull with one blow.

Jarasandha was nonchalant; he remained cross-legged on the floor. “I’ve heard of Vrigodharam but not seen it. Honour me, show me the legendary weapon, O Son of Kunti.”

“When the time is upon you, Jarasandha, you’ll feel Vrigodharam. Until then, it remains as always, invisible to those without sight.”

“What about you, O Son of Indra, where is your famed bow, the Gandiva? Will you hide in the brushes and shoot me, like your father Pandu shot dead Maharishi Kindama and his wife while they were copulating?”

Bheema roared and lifted his mace, ready to strike. Arjuna grabbed his bow. But Krishna stopped them both. He said,

“Jarasandha. You know what is to come. There are three of us. Make your choice.”

“I’ll not fight you, Krishna, for you’re a cowherd, unworthy to challenge a kshatriyan. I’ll not fight Arjuna, for he is a mere boy. But you, Bheema, though this scheme hatched in the middle of the night is unworthy of any kshatriyan, I’ll fight you.” The Magadha king stood up and said,

“I’ve one condition. You, Krishna, will not help Bheema when I fight him. Not a word from you and no magic and trickery. But if my time is upon me, so be it. I’ll give up my life just as Bali Maharajah surrendered his life to Lord Vishnu’s trickery.”

“When a man ties his right hand so his left hand can carry more burden, is he being unfair to his right hand or his left?” said Krishna. “The less the vantage, the greater the merit gained. Is it not so?”

“You’ll murder me using deceit just so I can gain better merit?” The Magadha king sniggered. “Krishna, you write your parables on water. Enough of your prate. Bheema, take up your mace and let us duel to the death. But first, let us offer prayers to our household deities and wish upon one another an honourable victory.”

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