Dwarka, Northwest India, 864 BC
The monsoons washed summer away. Plants and animals re-emerged after the long, hot silence.
Nature had been still throughout summer, but people had not. The city of Dwarka raged with civil war as huts, palaces, and the wharf burned. Half of the people still believed in their raja, while the other half finally saw their king for what he was. I’d learned that he was a manipulative puppeteer over thirty years ago. But then again, I’d been closer to Krishna than most.
After all that time, I thought he’d forgotten me. But no, he had to meddle once again.
I skirted between huts, dodging arrows and spears. In the city’s smoke and flames, I was just another warrior lashing out at anything that moved. No one paid attention to my ill-fitting clothes or the fact that there were curves under my trousers and coat. Admittedly, the curves had shifted somewhat from the birth of six children.
I pushed my sons and daughter out of my mind as I exchanged bronze for information on Krishna’s whereabouts. Soldiers in his army told me that he’d fled. Typical. That bastard never got blood on his hands. Not directly. Except for that one time in the Great Hall . . . I pushed that memory aside too.
The formidable brick wall that surrounded Krishna’s palace had been breached. I stepped over the rubble and tiptoed between the palm trees to get a closer look. The central square, a brick courtyard, was on fire. Armed civilians ran along the verandas of the four wings that spread out from the center. They brandished swords, terrorizing the inhabitants—mostly women in silken saris.
I stopped a couple of turbaned guards who were fleeing with the intruders. I didn’t even need to pay them; they volunteered that the raja was headed for the beach. I saw the confusion in their eyes. They wanted so desperately to believe that he was a god, but he’d just vanished and left them to their own devices.
I tracked the Raja of Dwarka to the marshlands that ran parallel to the beach. It was easy following a single pair of sandal prints in the mud.
The humidity was disgusting; something I’d never gotten used to. My hair stuck to my sweaty neck, as did a mosquito. I swatted the insect, which left blood on my graying hair. I wished that I was young again, not huffing and puffing while I trudged through the mud. As I stepped around mangrove roots that reached upwards through puddles, cool water flooded my boots.
During this brief interlude between storms, sunrays filtered into the forest. Bees seized the opportunity to build a honeycomb, and a couple of frogs poked their eyes out of the swamps. Larger creatures were also active—a lion’s footprints led away between the trees and probably to a rotting carcass.
I stopped cold when I saw Krishna for the first time in decades. His stooped shadow crystallized into an aged man. Ducking behind a tree, I studied him with interest. Krishna was a god in the eyes of many, given that he knew everything about everyone. Yet he was all flesh and blood today—gods that took on human form had to contend with aging bodies. His hair was white and his black skin wrinkled by too many days in the sun. Krishna finally resembled the wraith that he was.
He hobbled in no particular direction. I thought he might be headed to the ocean to escape via boat, but he drifted aimlessly in the mangroves. Krishna’s famously acute mind must have finally withered.
Pausing in the sunlight, he lapped up some fresh water from a puddle. He wore no armor over his dhoti and shirt, but only a shawl. I scoffed to myself; killing him would be all too easy.
Bitter and distracted, Krishna resumed his aimless journey, this time heading south again. Despite the summer heat, he wrapped his shawl tightly around his shoulders as though it could ward off the world and all its evils.
He took a break in a clearing, giving me a clear shot. I raised my bow, adjusted the iron-headed arrow and then pulled the bowstring back tightly against my cheek. I focused on Krishna’s heart, longing for the satisfaction of a kill. My body had always yearned for that more than it had for other needs.
A doe distracted me as it bounded between mangroves to join its herd in a knee-deep pool. Anger bubbled under my skin because Arjuna would not have lost focus. After all these years, I thought about Bapu. I had tucked my father away in the back of my mind along with everyone else I had lost. The memory of him must have been triggered by the arrow that I now held tensely trained on my father's best friend.
I refocused. The smell of salt filled my nostrils as I readjusted the arrow on my bow. Krishna headed to a denser mangrove. I had to take the shot. The forest fell silent and my concentration became absolute. Not a single bee, mosquito, or frog dared make a sound.
“Kshatriya,” Krishna greeted me as he turned to face me. His strange blue eyes were as alert as they’d ever been.