'You should practice harder! Only then you can become as great an archer like Arjuna!' One of the Yadava boys practicing archery in the royal gardens told his sibling. The other boy suitably nodded his head and tried harder.
Bhadra who was watching the entire scene from her room felt a strange emotion pass through her when she heard the conversation of the young boys.
It had always been like this. Most of the Yadava elders blessed their children to either become like Krishna or Arjuna. Krishna was the incarnation of Lord Vishnu himself so obviously, there was no one who could ever become like him. However Arjuna was more...human. He was a man who had become a great warrior by his sheer practice. People all over the country loved him for that and the Yadava kingdom was no exception. People everywhere knew him and stories of his legend spread all over the country, which made him even more likable.
Bhadra, Krishna's sister felt a special connection to the Pandava. One that she could not explain even to herself. The more she heard about Arjuna, the more she wanted to know. It seemed like an insatiable yearning which was never fulfilled.
So it was with considerable trepidation that Subhadra went to meet her elder brother Balarama, one evening. She was more or less sure of what the conversation was going to be about and she did not want to hear it.
'Subhadra!' The strong Yadava's face crinkled into a smile as he saw his sister. 'I have the perfect news for you!'
'What?' Subhadra mumbled, now more than sure of what exactly the news was going to be.
Krishna who was standing behind Balarama hastily shook his head as he looked at Subhadra.
I do not want this...Subhadra looked pleading at Krishna.
I will handle this...Krishna signaled to Subhadra, willing her to keep a straight face when around their elder brother.
How...Subhadra asked feeling slightly uncertain.
Krishna did not reply but then Subhadra was sure that Krishna would do something.
Balarama continued, completely not realizing the silent communication between Bhadra and Krishna.
'Subhadra! You know that Duryodhana is my favourite pupil! He is the prince of Hastinapur! He wants you to be his wife...' Said Balarama in a booming voice. It was no great secret that Balarama favoured the eldest Kaurava.
For a second Subhadra was scared but then she remembered what Krishna had told her. Looking at Krishna, who was studiously avoiding her gaze, Subhadra said nothing. 'As you wish, brother!' She said in a barely audible voice as she hastily left the room.
Balarama missed Subhadra's anguished eyes and Krishna's mischievous glint. He was delighted. 'See! I told you that Subhadra would like the match!' he said laughing.
Krishna said nothing as he sighed mentally realizing that his sister had understood exactly what he had wanted. If Subhadra had created a scene right now, Balarama with all his reckless anger would have done something rather hastily....Now Krishna needed a little more time. Just enough till his friend came to Prabhasa...Because Krishna had no doubt, not one, that his friend would come to meet him....
Arjuna looked at the rishis and the sages who were traveling with him, along with the other natives of Prabhasa. The merchant before him bowed deeply to one of the rishis. Arjuna watched the entire scene disconnected from it. He was in seventh heaven as images of Krishna and the girl beckoned him to Prabhasa.
'Do you know, Prince Balarama is planning to get his sister Bhadra married?' One of the merchant's spoke to his neighbour as they were walking.
Arjuna was sure he was heard wrong. But then the words repeated again and again in his mind. Stumbling he went towards the merchant, shaking him roughly. 'What? What did you say?' he demanded angrily.
The merchant looked flustered at the wild man. But what really scared the merchant was the ferocious expression in the other man's face.
'Prince Balarama wants to get his sister Subhadra married to Duryodhana, his favourite pupil!' The merchant mumbled back as the wild man's expression changed.
'Did Princess Subhadra accept the proposal?' Arjuna demanded.
The merchant shrugged. 'If she had not accepted, would Prince Balarama have continued with the proposal?'
The merchant blinked as the expression of the man before him suddenly went dark. It almost looked like the light from his eyes had been snuffed out.
Subhadra was getting married to someone else. His Subhadra...Arjuna's mind repeated to him as he shook his head to clear it. Arjuna had never even seen Subhadra, but still he felt that she belonged to him. Now she was taken away.
The others walked away towards the city as Arjuna was finding it difficult to even breathe, let alone walk.
Losing hope? A cheerful voice came from his heart as Arjuna faltered. Arjuna looked around and saw no one. But Arjuna had no doubt that Krishna was talking to him. It almost felt like Krishna was jeering at him.
Subhadra is getting married! Arjuna whined. A part of him wondered why he was so sure that Krishna was with him.
The image of the sages and the rishis walking towards Prabhasa came to Arjuna. That should give you a clue as to what you have to do!
Arjuna frowned. You want me to come to Prabhasa dressed as a sage. Why?
A tiny drop of rain fell on Arjuna's arm as he frowned looking at it.
Oh Good! The four months of rains have started! Just come to the royal temple courtyard. Krishna's laugh was undeniable this time.
What have you planned, Krishna? Arjuna thought feeling completely clueless.
Arjuna received no reply, just a beautiful laughter.
Arjuna was looking nervous in his thick beard, unmatted hair and sage's dress, as he walked inside Prabhasa. There were some people here, who knew him really well. If they recognized him, Arjuna knew that whatever Krishna had planned for him would not work out.
Hastily he made the way to the temple of Raivataka as the skies opened and the rains poured down. He sat in the covered temple courtyard taking a deep breaths trying to calm himself. When Arjuna opened his eyes, he almost yelped in fear as he saw a royal man come towards him. Arjuna was nervous because he knew exactly who the man was. And it was not someone he wanted to see....
Balarama was surprised to see the sage inside the temple courtyard. Though the sage looked fairly young, his face had a charismatic quality in him, almost a powerful aura....Balarama frowned wondering whom the sage reminded him of....But try as he might, Balarama could not remember any other sages resembling the one before him. More out of custom than any other reason, Balarama bowed to the sage.
The sage seemed to look at Balarama nervously.
'Brother!' A cheerful voice came beside Balarama as Balarama smiled at his dark young brother, who was just entering the temple. Much to Balarama's chagrin, his younger brother completely ignored the sage. 'Brother! I wished to speak to you....'
Balarama hushed Krishna with his eyes pointing at sage in the temple. Krishna did not seem to notice the sage and continued talking, as Balarama looked angrily at him. Krishna seemed to finally realize the presence of the third person in the temple and then turned to look at the sage.
Krishna's expression changed from a smile to a frown in one second flat. 'And who is he?' he barked.
'KRISHNA!' Balarama hissed angrily, looking well beyond shocked. 'He is a great sage! He has come here just before the rains! It is a good omen!' Balarama said in a placatory tone hoping the sage did not take offence to his brother.
'How can a sage coming before the rainy season be a good omen?' Krishna demanded angrily.
Balarama took a deep breath trying to control himself. 'Krishna! We have a sister! A younger sister! An unmarried younger sister!' Balarama emphasized.
Krishna looked blankly at the sage and then at Balarama. 'So?'
Balarama was now really struggling to control himself. 'We have a custom that if any unmarried girl serves a great sage really well, the sage would bless her to get a good husband!' Balarama said pointing at the sage with his eyes. 'Subhadra would serve the sage for the four rainy months when the sage would stay here!' (In those days, traveling during the rainy season was almost unheard of.) Balarama said feeling very proud of himself.
Balarama missed a sudden mischievous glint on his younger brother's face. He even missed the sudden gasp from the sage himself. He continued. 'That would get Bhadra a good husband!'
Not one hair betrayed Krishna's true feelings. The sage was however finding it very difficult to control his euphoria. Krishna noticed this and realized that Balarama had to be taken away from there. Besides right now everything was tentative. There was one more thing which needed to be done if his plan were to materialize.
'Brother! May I speak to you in private?' Krishna said edging his brother away, least his brother see the real love struck face of the sage and discover who he was.
Balarama looked annoyed but nevertheless followed his brother. 'Did you look at him?' Krishna hissed at his brother, far away from the sage's ears. 'He is too young and too good looking!' Balarama scoffed as Krishna continued. 'I would not leave that sage alone with any girl, let alone with our Bhadra!' Balarama was steadily getting angry as Krishna spoke the last sentence. 'I think he is a false sage!'
That did it. Balarama was so angry that he stomped away from there, not even bothering to reply to his brother. Krishna followed his brother trying to talk to him, who studiously ignored him. Balarama bowed to the sage again,completely ignoring Krishna. 'Great Sage! I would be honoured if you were to come to our royal gardens! Please spend the rainy seasons in our garden! Our sister Princess Subhadra would take good care of you there!'
The sage seemed to have gotten control over himself and first looked at Krishna and then at Balarama and nodded his head gravely. 'As you wish, my son!'