“O Krishna, why do you think we might not win this war? All the wise men, possessed of the third eye, have seen victory for us. All the astrologers who chart the planets have predicted the same.” said Bheema.

“What they predict are probabilities. The war is not won until it is won.”

“Pardon me, O Blue One, but what does that mean? The stars move in a fixed path. Their journeys are predictive. Their positions trigger certain events; are definitive,” said Drupada. His words found ready acceptance among the kings.

“But what are the actions of the people who populate those planetary systems?” said Krishna.

“Krishna, please. It has been a long and tiring day. Tease us not with rhetorical questions; speak plainly,” said Virata.

“If a brahmin sets off on pilgrimage to Kanchi, we can predict he will go there. But, along the way, he might face distraction and danger, and even death. There is nothing definite; no assurance he will reach his destination.”

“If we can’t rely on the stars, what guarantees can we rely on to win this war?” said Virata.

“There are no guarantees. But we can improve our prospects of victory by doing something which we should have done before embarking on this terrible task.” The kings waited with pregnant expectation. Krishna took a sip of water and sighed. “What do we do before taking a meal?”

“We wash.”

The kings looked over their shoulders. They could not tell who spoke, but it sent a chuckle rippling through the gathered warriors. Krishna smirked. He placed a soft hand on Arjuna’s lap and prompted him.

“Before we take a meal, we offer our food to the gods we worship,” said Arjuna. He looked distraught; something was terribly wrong.

“Food to the gods; a sacrifice,” said Krishna; his voice was firm and drew attention away from Arjuna. “We offer sacrifice to the gods in return for what we are about to receive. The reward can be big or small, but we always give to the gods their dues.”

“Let’s summon the priests and offer a sacrifice,” said Drupada. “Let’s please the lords Agni Deva and Yamarajah. Goats. Sheep. Camels.”

“Elephants,” said Vitara. “I’ll offer a thousand elephants.”

“Goddess Durga, Kali-Amma, needs but only one life to satisfy her.” Krishna paused before adding. “A human life.”

The men went silent; remained frozen. After a few long moments, they broke into animated discussions. Excited voices spoke over one another; some spoke in riddles; others spoke with conviction. But one common thread surfaced: a slave. They agreed to offer a slave to satisfy Durga.

“Sahadeva, what say the stars?” said Krishna.

“The Chosen One must have thirty-two birthmarks on his body. Not battle scars. Not moles or tags. Pronounced birthmarks.”

“Who has such birthmarks?” said Krishna.

“O Krishna, I know now why you tasked me to locate such men. If I had known, I would not have given you the names,” said Sahadeva.

“But you gave the names; joyfully referred to them as the Chosen Ones,” said Krishna.

“When I said they were the Chosen Ones, I meant chosen by the gods to lead us to victory, but I know now why your face drew long upon hearing the names.”

“Will we not lead you to victory?” said Krishna, with his ever-radiant smile.

“We? What do you mean, Krishna?” said Yudhishthira. “Your words ring ominous. Krishna; Sahadeva; who are the Chosen Ones?”

“Enlighten them,” said Krishna. Sahadeva mumbled the names. Then, he inhaled, stiffened his voice and said,

“I studied all the horoscopes of all the heroes gathered behind our standards. Krishna and Arjuna were marked thirty-two times at birth; they are the Chosen Ones.”

*** Copyright @ 2022, Eric Alagan ***

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