He came out in the open from the dark shade of the tree and looked up the sky. The night was clear and the stars were shining brightly. Somewhere there in the constellation of stars his fate was ordained. Involuntarily, he touched his forehead. The glassy touch on the lump that lay hidden under his long hairs reminded him of his unnatural physical characteristic, which people talked about in hushed tones behind him. He was used to such talks from his childhood and therefore made a habit of not tying his locks and let hang over his forehead, often covering his face. In his childhood the other boys were inquisitive about the piece of red ruby that was embedded on the front of his head, just above the forehead. He too wanted to know the reason for this strange stone as a part of his body.
His parents had no answer to his queries. But his mother used to tell him stories about his father’s penance and prayers to Lord Shiva in order to beget a son worthy to be called a great man in true sense. Though his father never disclosed anything to him or his mother, it was widely believed that Ashwathama was born as a boon that his father received from Mahadeva and indeed his mother always believed him to be a Rudra incarnate, given his temper.
But there were other facets of his personality that made his parents truly proud of him. He was the model son and never hurt the feelings of his parents. Even after witnessing poverty and then living the lavish life of an army commander in Hastinapura, he never indulged in the princely habits of debauchery. His simple life and piety made him stand out even in the presence of kings and above all, was his loyalty. Duryodhana knew this very well and trusted him as much as his own brother Dushshasana.
Thinking about Dushshasana and the way he was killed made him wince. For he was a dear friend too. And inspite of his failings, he was a great warrior. He did not deserve to be killed in the way he was. Had Bheema’s son Ghatotkoch, the rakshasha born killed him, it could be justified ; but the way Bheema killed him with his bare hands and then ripped apart his heart to squeeze blood out of it for Draupadi to wet her hairs, was beyond anything human .
But then , the Pandavas repeatedly broke the rules in this war . And it was Keshava , Krishna who guided them in this. Ashwathama always had a great regard for Krishna but after eighteen days of war, he was surprised with all the chicanery that the great man resorted to. Inspite of not participating in the war as a warrior, he was the force behind the Pandavas . They called it Dharmayudha but used all the foul means to defeat their enemies.
His sixth sense was alerted with the sound of something approaching. The big owl flapped its wings and circled the tree. Then suddenly it dived into the darkness of the tree and attacked the crows sleeping, on the branches there. A lot of screeches and squeals from the crows could be heard. The owl was attacking them ferociously and killing them, with its sharp beaks and talons. Bodies of crows killed by the owl were falling down and the whole tree was alive with raucous sounds of the crows that were fleeing the tree in droves.
Both Kripa and Kritavarma were now on their feet, disturbed by the sounds. They joined him and looked at the scene above, peering through the darkness. Presently the owl flew away and the noise subsided partly. But his mind was now in utter chaos as an idea leapt there, like a naked flame.