“The Grandsire has laid out the tenets to guide us in how and when we should press the battles to come,” said Karna. He walked the length of the audience hall as he spoke, holding the eyes of kings who watched him. Many in the gathering disliked Karna, for they considered him low-born, and it rankled that in many aspects he was a better warrior than them.

“But I cannot agree with the Grandsire that combat can only commence at sunrise and must cease at sunset,” said Karna. “All the world knows that our rakshasa allies are at their strongest and fiercest during the hours of darkness. Why hobble these undaunted warriors who form a sizable portion of our cohorts? I propose we fight when we wish to press home our advantage. By confining to daylight hours, we deprive ourselves of many victories.”

“Karna, this is not the first time you have disagreed with me, but like the chip on your shoulder, you ignore one simple fact. Soldiers need to rest and recuperate,” said Bhishma.

“Let our rakshasa allies take the fight to the Pandavas during the night and rest during the day,” said Karna. “While the rest of us take the field during the day and rest during the night.”

“Remember, the Pandavas have many rakshasa allies, too,” said Bhishma. “My suggestion hobbles them as much as us.”

“Their rakshasa allies are part human and can fight well, even during the day. Our heroes of the jungles are pure bred, of unsullied bloodlines,” said Karna.

“It is interesting that you should speak of purity of bloodlines.”

“Grandsire Bhishma, I respect your age, but do not cast aspersions on my parentage again,” said Karna. “This is not a mere feat of arms to showcase children’s games. This is war and I’m not a boy and will not tolerate any slurs on my heritage. True, my father is a charioteer, but he is a kshatriyan; and my mother a fine brahmana lady. Does that make me less than desired? Out there in the field, one’s skill will talk best; not words that spill out of a tongue that twists this way and that.”

“Karna, know your place,” said Bhishma.

Karna laughed loud and long. He went on and on; suddenly stopped and said,

“Know my place? Bhishma, draw your weapon and let all judge your place and mine.”

The assembly gasped as one. The Angaraj had addressed the grandsire by name; shown unprecedented disrespect. Duryodhana, who assessed that the mood of the kings had turned against his friend, blurted.

“Karna, Grandsire, please. Perhaps, when we meet the Pandavas, we can discuss and agree on the rules of war with them. Whatever we decide here, we have to secure the enemy’s consent too.”

“We must press the Pandavas to keep night operations open,” said Karna.

“You speak so much about our rakshasa allies, but where are they?” said Bhishma. “Not a single jungle chieftain had honoured us with his presence. We took them in as allies not because we hope for them to fight for us, but to prevent them from going over to the Pandavas’ side and worse, to prevent these beast-men from raiding our kingdoms when we are engaged in battle.”

“Did you send them invitations to attend this war council? Or was it your scheme to keep those rough men out; for fear of upsetting the delicate senses of the gentrified citizens of Hastinapura?”

“Sutaputra, how does hurting the feelings of the nobles of Hastinapura help you?” said Bhishma.

“Gangaputra, did you send invitations and gifts to the rakshasa kings to convey to them the high value Hastinapura attached to their alliance? Where is your answer? Why deflect?”

“We keep guard dogs to protect our property but do not allow them into our homes.”

“Ah, so now we know. The rakshasas are good enough to fight and bleed and die for our cause, but they are not good enough to enter our cities or dine in the same dining hall as us or bed our women.”

“You are free to take the beast-men’s maidens to wife your sons, but we, true born kshatriyas, have lived by our tenets,” said Bhishma. “What you hint at will undermine our culture and tenets that had evolved over centuries. We cannot allow worms to eat into the wood and destroy the foundations of our society and unravel our lives.”

*** Copyright @ 2021, Eric Alagan ***

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