At the end of the twelfth year in exile, Yudhishthira arranged for his mother, Kunti Devi, to join Lord Krishna, her nephew.

“Your presence in Dvaraka will assure us of your safety,” said Yudhishthira. “It will also draw our enemies there, away from your sons.”

“At least tell me where you are going.” Kunti sobbed. Her sons had kept their destination secret, but she had assumed they will take her along.

“It’s best that you do not know, Mother,” said Panchali, and she hugged her mother-in-law.

The day for Kunti’s departure neared. Her sons prepared the wagons and supplies for the long journey to Dvaraka.

Tired of deflecting questions, Bheema called the people together and made clear it would not be prudent to reveal the brothers’ planned destination. The people understood, but the blunt truth also cast a pall over the tight community. They would not only miss their beloved heroes; Bheema’s candour also reminded them of the danger of discovery and an extended exile for the Pandavas.

The brahmanas who had remained in Kamyaka forest for the last twelve years turned out in full; they too accompanied Kunti to Dvaraka.

Thripthi, Sakuni’s spy, noticed several carts in the column’s rear that served as transport for the servants. The carriages overflowed with people and various household furniture and utensils. But one canvas-covered wagon, which had plenty of unoccupied space, drew his attention.

He grabbed a sack of rice and carried it to the wagon. The bullock cart driver waved him away. But Thripthi dropped the sack, and the rice spilled on the ground. The driver jumped down to help scoop up the fallen grain. The brahmana spy peered under the canvas cover. Arjuna’s famed bow, Gandiva, lay wrapped in deerskin. Bheema’s mace, Vrigodharam, peeped out of a tiger skin. There were other weapons that belonged to the Pandavas.

A brahmana, one of Thripthi’s spy, waved. He rushed over and the man whispered in his ears. The Pandavas had headed for the river.

“What? Did you burn the boat?” He grabbed the man’s throat.

“Yes, master.”

Thripthi and his men hurried and were in time to see the Pandavas enter the water. This was not unusual, as the brothers waded into the water when they wished to talk in private. The brahmana spies waited among the brushes by the river bank, their eyes intent on the five brothers.

Yudhishthira and his brothers sank into the river and its surface rippled and bubbled. The brahmanas waited, but the Pandavas did not surface. Thripthi sensed a rustle of leaves and felt a sultry breeze in his ear. He swatted his ear but thought nothing of it. After a prolonged time, he cursed. He grabbed the neck of another man and shook.

“Are you very sure you destroyed the right boat; the robust one the glutton built?”

“Yes, we did, master. We torched it last night. Come and we’ll show you the burnt hulk,” said the man.

The Pandavas’ date of departure was common knowledge in the hamlet, and the men had waited until the brothers had retired for the night. Thripthi, supposed to supervise the destruction, had spent the night with a harlot, a woman recently arrived in Kamyaka.  

Horrified that he had failed his master, the unforgiving Sakuni, Thripthi pushed away the man. A moment passed and his eyes widened.

“The caravan. Hurry!”

The caravan had set off. But Thripthi and his fellow spies bolted over rises and took shortcuts and caught up with the slow-moving column. They joined the small procession of brahmanas and servants who followed on foot close behind the canvas-covered wagon that contained the Pandavas’ weapons.

At the first opportunity, Thripthi left the caravan and hurried to Hastinapura.

“The Pandavas will never be far away from their weapons,” said Sakuni. Duryodhana agreed. Karna was unconvinced, but remained silent.

“I should have taken your head for failing me. You owe your life to the prince and the Angaraj.”

Again, Thripthi grovelled and kissed the royals’ feet. But they stepped away.

“Redeem yourself,” said Sakuni to his master spy. “Stay with the wagon. Make sure you and your men do not leave it out of sight or I’ll definitely take your heads. When the Pandavas reach Dvaraka, report back.”

“As you wish, Your Highness.” Thripthi gathered his cloak, bowed several times like a bird bobbing its head, and disappeared down the trap door.

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