the oath of the vayuputras - Page 102

‘DON’T TOUCH ME!’ bellowed Sati as she collapsed to the ground.

Daksha buckled, crying inconsolably, digging his nails into his face.

‘Sati!’ screamed Veerini as she lifted her daughter into her arms.

‘Maa...’ whispered Sati.

‘Don’t talk. Relax,’ cried Veerini, before frantically looking back. ‘Get the doctors! Now!’

‘Maa...’

‘Be quiet, my child.’

‘Maa, my time has come...’

‘No! No! We’ll save you! We’ll save you!’

‘Maa, listen to me!’ said Sati.

‘My child...’

‘My body will be handed over to Shiva.’

‘Nothing will happen to you,’ sobbed Veerini. The Queen of Meluha turned around once again. ‘Will someone get the doctors?! Now!’

Sati held her mother’s face with surprising strength. ‘Promise me! Only to Shiva!’

‘Sati...’

‘Promise me!’

‘Yes, my child, I promise.’

‘And, both Ganesh and Kartik will light my pyre.’

‘You’re not going to die!’

‘Both Ganesh and Kartik! Promise me!’

‘Yes, yes. I promise.’

Sati slowed her breathing down. She had heard what she needed to. She blocked out the weeping she could hear all around her. She rested her head in her mother’s lap and looked towards the peace conference building. The doors were open. Lord Ram and Lady Sita’s idols were clearly visible. She could feel their kind and welcoming eyes upon her. She would be back with them soon.

A sudden wind picked up, swirling dust particles and leaves lying around her on the ground. Sati gazed at the swirl. The particles appeared to form a figure. She stared hard as Shiva’s image seemed to emerge. She remembered the promise she had made to him; that she would see him when he returned.

I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.

The wind died down just as suddenly. Sati could feel her vision blurring. Blackness appeared to be taking over. Her vision seemed to recede into a slowly reducing circle, with darkness all around it. The wind burst into life once again. The dust particles and leaves rose in an encore and showed Sati the vision she wanted to die with: the love of her life, her Shiva.

I’ll be waiting for you, my love.

Thinking of her Shiva, Sati let her last breath slip quietly out of her body.

Chapter 46

Lament of the Blue Lord

To reach the Meluhan capital as quickly as possible, Shiva had commandeered a merchant ship, which docked at Devagiri a little more than a week later.

‘That must be the ship Sati commandeered,’ said Shiva, pointing towards an anchored empty vessel.

‘It means she’s still in Devagiri,’ said Ganesh. ‘Bhoomidevi, be praised.’

Kali clenched her fist. ‘If they’ve imprisoned her and hope to negotiate, I will personally destroy everything that moves in this city.’

‘Let’s not assume the worst, Kali,’ said Shiva. ‘We all know that whatever may be his faults, the Emperor will not harm Sati.’

‘I agree,’ said Kartik.

‘And don’t forget, Queen Kali,’ said Gopal, ‘We have the fearsome Pashupatiastra. Nobody can stand up to it. Nobody. The mere threat of this terrifying weapon would be enough to achieve our purpose.’

Their conversation came to a stop with the sound of the gangplank crashing on the deck.

‘Where is everyone?’ asked Shiva, frowning as he stepped onto the gangplank.

‘How can the port be left abandoned?’ asked a surprised Ayurvati, who had never seen something like this in all the years that she had lived in Meluha.

‘Let’s go,’ said Shiva, unease trickling down his spine.

The entire brigade marched out in step with the Neelkanth. As Shiva’s men stepped out of the port area their eyes fell on the large peace conference building. Inexplicably, a colony of tents had been set up outside the building.

‘This area has been thoroughly cleaned recently,’ said Gopal. ‘Even the grass has been dug out.’

‘Of course, it would be,’ said Shiva, quietening his fears. ‘They would need a pure area for the conference.’

A phalanx of Brahmins was conducting a puja next to the closed door of the peace conference hall.

‘What are they praying for, Panditji?’ asked Shiva.

‘They’re praying for peace,’ said Gopal.

Shiva found nothing amiss in that.

‘But... They’re praying for peace for the souls,’ said a surprised Gopal. ‘The souls of the dead...’

Shiva instinctively reached to his side and pulled out his sword. His entire brigade did the same.

As they approached the colony, Parvateshwar and Anandmayi stepped out from one of the tents. Behind them was a short man in a simple white dhoti and angvastram, his head shaved clean except for a traditional tuft of hair at the crown signifying his Brahmin lineage, and sporting a long, flowing white beard.

‘Lord Bhrigu,’ whispered Gopal, immediately folding his hands together in a Namaste.

‘Namaste, great Vasudev,’ said Bhrigu politely, walking up to Gopal.

Shiva held his breath as he stared at his real adversary. A man he was meeting for the first time.

‘Great Neelkanth,’ said Bhrigu.

‘Great Maharishi,’ returned Shiva, his grip over his sword tightening.

Bhrigu opened his mouth to say something, hesitated and then looked at Parvateshwar, who had now walked up to stand next to him. Parvateshwar and Anandmayi bent low in respect to their living God. As Parvateshwar rose, Shiva got his first close look at his friend-turned-foe’s face. He was stunned. The Meluhan general’s eyes were red and swollen, like he hadn’t slept in weeks.

‘Isn’t the Emperor allowing you into the city?’ asked Shiva.

‘We have chosen not to enter, My Lord,’ said Parvateshwar.

‘Why?’

‘We don’t recognise him as our Emperor anymore.’

‘Is it because you don’t agree with what the conference is trying to achieve? Is that why you are waiting here for us, with your Brahmins chanting death hymns?’

Parvateshwar could not speak.

‘If you want a battle, Parvateshwar, you shall have it,’ announced Shiva.

‘The battle is over, My Lord.’

‘The entire war is over, great Neelkanth,’ added Bhrigu.

Shiva frowned, astonished. He turned towards Gopal.

‘Has Princess Sati managed to convince the Emperor?’ asked Gopal. ‘We want nothing but the end of the Somras. So long as Meluha agrees to those terms, the Neelkanth is happy to declare peace.’

‘My Lord,’ said Parvateshwar as he touched Shiva’s elbow, his eyes brimming with tears. ‘Come with me.’

‘Where?’

Parvateshwar glanced at Shiva briefly, and then looked at the ground again. ‘Please come.’

Shiva sheathed his sword in its scabbard and followed Parvateshwar as he walked towards the peace conference building. He in turn was followed by the others: Bhrigu, Kali, Ganesh, Kartik, Gopal, Veerbhadra, Krittika, Ayurvati, Brahaspati and Tara. Anandmayi remained outside her tent. She couldn’t bear to see what was about to happen.