The Kauravas returned to Hastinapura and huddled in discussion. The popular vote went to declaring immediate war on the Pandavas.

“Duryodhana, I share your outrage but I also counsel calm,” said Sakuni. “Yudhishthira is emperor and enjoys the sworn fealty of the vast majority of the kings. Their wealth is a hundred times that of Kuru Pradesh. And most important, they have Krishna on their side.”

“I will pluck that cowherd’s head,” said Karna

“Karna, you’re a great hero and must remain focussed on Bheema and Arjuna,” said Sakuni. “No one, no one on earth, past, present and future, can defeat Krishna; not even you, Karna.”

“Why this sudden fear of that cowherd?”

“Karna, it’s not fear but knowledge that blunts my outrage,” said Sakuni, and he related the secret source of Krishna’s power. “Duryodhana and you will have your war, but first we’ve to neutralise Krishna.”

“You speak in riddles, uncle,” said Duryodhana.

“We’ll deprive the Pandavas of their wealth.”

“How do you propose to do that without donning armour or wielding weapons?” said Karna.

“Patience, Karna. Let me finish,” said Sakuni. The angaraj exhaled in exasperation and dropped into his chair. “Thank you, my dear champion. There is more than one way to pluck a peacock.” The Gandhara prince produced his pair of dice and revealed his plan.

“A game of dice? You hope to win over the Pandava empire in a game of dice?” said Duryodhana.

“Why not?”

“Dear uncle, Yudhishthira is an accomplished gambler. Dice games are his forte. This is the first time I’ve seen you handle a die,” said Duryodhana.

“Duryodhana, my dear sister’s first-born, there is much about me you don’t know. In a game of dice, if Yudhishthira is the Arjuna, then I am Karna.”

“Well said, Uncle Sakuni,” said Karna. He slapped his thigh and laughed. “Should we put you to the test, as I was during the feat of arms?”

“Karna, you’ve the honour to call the first number,” said Sakuni. He rubbed the pair of dice in his hands.

“Seven,” said Karna. Sakuni rolled the dice.

“Seven.”

“Twelve,” said Duryodhana.

The Gandhara prince rolled a twelve. Another call and another win. And it went on and on. After a thousand rolls of the dice, Karna and the Kauravas, impressed and exhilarated, slumped back in their chairs.

“How do we go about enticing Yudhishthira into a game of dice?” said Duryodhana.

“Gather around and hear my scheme for we’ve much to do,” said Sakuni. “The first step is to build a palace dedicated to hosting the game. But we will leak news that would have the Pandavas believe we build the palace to better their Maya Palace. We’ll not succeed, and that would give the Pandavas much joy. They will lower their guard. It will also drag the time and encourage Krishna to return to his kingdom to keep his 16,000 wives happy.”

“16,108 wives,” said Dushasana.

“That many?” said Sakuni. Dushasana and his brothers laughed.

“What’s the second step, uncle?” said Duryodhana.

“We invite the Pandavas to visit our new palace. They will come to leer and snigger and we will allow them that pleasure.”

“And the third step?” said the imperial heir.

“The third step is to let Emperor Yudhishthira win.”

“What?” Duryodhana stood up in shock. But Karna leaned back in his chair and smiled. He said,

“Duryodhana, my bosom friend, ask Uncle Sakuni for his fourth step; and the fifth.”

“Karna, you’ve bested Arjuna and now I suspect you’re even wiser than Vidura, let alone Sahadeva,” said Sakuni.

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