the oath of the vayuputras - Page 103

The Brahmins continued their drone of Sanskrit shlokas as Parvateshwar came up to the building’s entrance. The general took a deep breath and pushed the large doors open. As Shiva walked in he was stunned by what he saw.

Twenty beds had been laid out in the massive hall. Each bed was occupied by an injured soldier, being tended to by a Brahmin doctor. On the first bed lay one of Shiva’s most ardent devotees, the one who had found him in Tibet.

‘Nandi!’ screamed Shiva, racing to the bed in a few giant strides.

Shiva went down on his knees and touched Nandi’s face. He was unconscious. Both his arms had been severed; the left one close to his wrist and the right close to the elbow. There were numerous tiny scars all over his body, perhaps the result of small projectiles. His face was pockmarked with wounds. The bed had been especially designed to keep a part of Nandi’s back untouched. He’d probably suffered a serious injury on his back as well. Shiva could see that the wounds were healing, but it was equally obvious that the injuries were grave and his body would take a long time to recover.

‘The wounds have been left open so they can be aired, great Neelkanth,’ said the Brahmin doctor, avoiding his eyes. ‘We will put in a fresh dressing soon. Major Nandi will heal completely. As will all the other soldiers here.’

Shiva continued to stare at Nandi, gently touching his face, anger rising within him. He got up suddenly, drew his sword out and pointed it straight at Parvateshwar.

‘I should murder the Emperor for this!’ growled Shiva.

Parvateshwar stood paralysed, staring at the ground.

‘If the Emperor thinks he can force my hand by doing this and capturing Sati,’ said Shiva, ‘he is living in a fool’s paradise.’

‘Once didi knows we are here,’ hissed Kali to Parvateshwar, ‘she will escape. And believe me, our wrath will then be terrible. Tell that goat who rules your Empire to release my sister. NOW!’

But Parvateshwar remained still, silent. Then he started shaking imperceptibly.

‘General?’ said Gopal, trying to sound reasonable. ‘There doesn’t have to be any violence. Just let the Princess go.’

Bhrigu attempted to speak to Gopal, but was unable to find the strength to say what he had to.

‘Lord Bhrigu,’ said Gopal, keeping his voice low but stern. ‘We have the Pashupatiastra. We will not hesitate to use it if our demands are not met. Release Princess Sati at once. Destroy the Somras factory in Devagiri. Do it now and we shall leave.’

Bhrigu seemed stunned by the news of the Pashupatiastra. He turned briefly towards Parvateshwar. But the general had failed to even register the risk from the terrible daivi astra. He was crying now, his whole body shaking with misery. He cried for the loss of the woman he had loved like the daughter he’d never had.

‘Parvateshwar,’ snarled Shiva, moving his sword even closer. ‘Don’t test my patience. Where is Sati?’

Parvateshwar finally looked at Shiva as tears streamed down his face.

Shiva stared at him, a horrific foreboding entering his heart. The space between his brows began to throb frantically.

‘My Lord,’ sobbed Parvateshwar. ‘I’m so sorry...’

Shiva’s sword slipped from his weakened grip as an excruciatingly painful thought entered his mind.

With terror-struck eyes, Shiva stepped towards the general. ‘Parvateshwar, where is she?’

‘My Lord... I did not reach in time...’

Shiva pulled Parvateshwar by his angvastram and grabbed his neck hard. ‘PARVATESHWAR! WHERE IS SATI?’

But Parvateshwar could not speak. He continued to cry helplessly.

Shiva noticed that Bhrigu had glanced for one brief moment at a direction behind him. He let go of Parvateshwar and spun around instantly. He saw a large wooden door at the far end of the hall.

‘S-A-T-I-I-I-I,’ screamed Shiva as he ran towards the room.

The Brahmin doctors immediately stepped out of the raging Shiva’s path.

‘SATI!’

Shiva banged on the door. It was locked. He stepped back, gave himself room, and rammed his shoulder into the door. It yielded an inch before the strong lock snapped it back into place.

In that instant, through the crack, Shiva saw a tower made of massive blocks of ice, before the door slammed back. His brow was burning now, a pain impossible for most mortals to tolerate.

One of the Meluhans went running for the keys to the room.

‘SATI!’ cried Shiva and slammed into the door again, splinters sticking into his shoulder, drawing blood.

The door held strong.

Shiva stepped back and kicked hard. It finally fell open with a thundering crash.

The breath was sucked out of the Neelkanth.

At the centre of the room, within the tower of ice, lay the mutilated body of the finest person he had ever known. His Sati.

‘SATIIIII!’

The Neelkanth stormed into the room. His brow felt like something had exploded within. Fire was consuming the area between his eyes.

He banged his fists repeatedly against the large ice block covering Sati’s body, desperately trying to push it away. Blood burst forth from Shiva’s shattered knuckles as he pounded against the immovable block. He kept hammering against the ice, breaking bits of it, trying to shove it away, trying to reach his Sati. His blood started seeping into the frozen water.

‘SATIII!’

Some Meluhans came running in from the other side of the room, sinking hooks into the block of ice covering Sati. They pulled hard. The block gave way and started sliding back. Shiva continued to hit hard, desperately pushing against it.

The block was barely half-way out when Shiva leapt onto the tower. A small depression had been carved in the ice, like a tomb. Within that icy coffin lay Sati’s body, her hands folded across her chest.

Shiva jumped into the tomb and pulled her body up, holding it tight in his arms. She was frozen stiff, her skin dulled to a greyish blue. There was a deep cut across her face, and her left eye had been gouged out. Her left hand had been partially sliced off. There were two gaping holes in her abdomen. Frozen blood, which had seeped out of her multiple injuries, lay congealed all across her mutilated body. Shiva pulled Sati close as he looked up, crying desperately, screaming incoherently, his heart inundated, his soul shattered.

‘SATIIII!’

It was a wail that would haunt the world for millennia.

Chapter 47

A Mother’s Message

The setting sun infused the sky with a profusion of colours, casting a dull glow on the peace conference building. Parvateshwar’s camp had been cleared out. A raging Kartik had threatened to kill every single man present. Not wanting to further excite the justified fury of the Neelkanth’s son, Bhrigu had ordered the retreat of Parvateshwar, Anandmayi and their men into Devagiri, a city they had refused to enter thus far.

Gopal was outside the peace conference building, in the temporary camp that had been set up for Shiva’s brigade. The Vasudev chief was in discussion with the brigade commander on the best course of action. Everyone wanted vengeance, but attacking Devagiri with just one brigade was unwise. Though the main Meluhan army and its allies were waylaid in faraway Mohan Jo Daro by its citizens, Devagiri still had enough troops to defend itself. The defensive features of the capital, moreover, could not be scaled with an offensive force as small as the one under Shiva’s command. Some of them suggested using the Pashupatiastra. Gopal immediately rejected it. There was no question of using the weapon. Both Shiva and he had given their word.