Time and place has lost its significance. I haven’t slept for days now. I lose consciousness every now and then, rest of the time life is just a blur. My head pains as if it had hit some rock, this headache is killing me. Sometimes I feel like father is sitting right beside me and his fingers are moving through my matted locks , then I open my eyes and all the pain begins.

The whole family is here, orphaned, abandoned, they want me to return to Ayodhya.All the great seers and sages are here in Chitrakoota with me. Vasistha, the great sage, says I need to return to Ayodhya and take up the burden of Kingship. Only the eldest son becomes King, that has been the Ishkavu tradition. Bharatha cries at my feet begging me to be king, Laxmana will go with me, wherever I go. I am unable to grasp anything they are saying. I knew that father would one day be gone, like everybody else, but today life has lost its purpose. I feel betrayed. I feel like a warrior betrayed, a child betrayed. I am not angry, I am not conscious enough to be angry.

I have seen the pride in my father’s eyes every time I came home victorious after battles, after pacifying Parashuram, after defeating Vishwamitra’s enemies. There is no one else in the world who admired me so, but my father. When I vanquish the whole of south and return as the greatest warrior ever, whom do I go home to. If it was not for that look in my father’s eyes, would I have taken up this dangerous mission. Now what is all this struggle worthy of, whom do I tell all my stories to.

I performed the final rites for the departed soul.I fed my father’s soul with darba grass and oil cake, and then I bathed in the cold water of Mandakini. Mandakini felt like Sarayu back home, I felt my father’s touch. On his long journey to some other world I wished my father well, he blessed me on my incomplete journey in this world. I rose from the river and all the seers and sages bowed before the new King of Ayodhya. I appointed Bharatha, my younger brother as my deputy ; Shatrughna, my youngest brother and Laxmana’s twin as the commander of Kosala’s armies. On the banks of Mandakini, I held my first court as Kosala’s dispenser of destinies.

Bharatha and the seers want me back in Ayodhya, leaving the mission incomplete. Jabali suggested that Laxmana head the southern push and build buffer zones to prevent a southern incursion. Vasistha suggested building a stronger Arya Varthi force based out of the plains. I was surprised nobody talked about Ravana and the riches of Lanka. It was as if Ravana’s overthrow was a distant fantasy. I had to take decisions, I was the decider now. I could feel the real burden of Kingship.

I told the court that we cannot busy ourselves with the nutty gritty of tradition and day to day governance, while forgetting the future of Ayodhya and our people. A southern push was inevitable and if that meant locking horns with Ravana, we should be doing it. I told them that without the resources of the south and peace with the southern dominions, the northern empires will continue the decline. I told them that there comes a time in the history of nations when they have to wake up from slumber and wield the weapon however cosy the slumber might be. I told them that securing the south for Ayodhya will mean one empire with an all powerful king streching from ocean to the himalayas. Even the northern dominions will be annexed into Kosala, I did not hide my intentions. An empire with no caucuses, an empire for our way of life. I told the court that Bharatha, my deputy will govern over Kosala for me and I, the King will continue with my mission. We will secure the south, with or without Ravana. I wished Bharata and the ministers well, as the King I asked them to keep the Ishkavu flag flying high. I was amazed that I could speak so well, then I am King.

I adjourned the court and the visitors reluctantly left Chitrakoota one by one. It was dusk and I went back to the river. I felt a chill go up my spine, I crouched by the river gasping for breath. The holy spot where Laxmana and me had performed the puja for father looked like a butcher’s shop. There were limbs and blood all over the place, the offerings were scattered here and there. I could see the carcass of two male lions with a deep stench, there was a freshly separated elephant head with blood gushing out into the Mandakini. Intestines, livers and testicles were pasted all over the rocks. This was the most gruesome spectacle I had seen in my life. It was some message which I did not understand. My anger knew no bounds, Laxmana and me set the whole forest on fire, killed every living thing around. Vengeance is the only thing I crave for standing in this circle of fire.

the princes and Sita left Chitrakoota immediately. the fire spread through the banks of Mandakini ; to the south, like a snake.