the oath of the vayuputras - Page 105

Maa...

‘Promise me! You will remember how I lived.’

I promise, maa... I will always remember...

Chapter 48

The Great Debate

The ones amongst Shiva’s brigade who were seeking vengeance got a boost the next morning. Against all expectations, Bhagirath sailed in at the head of the entire army of two hundred and fifty thousand troops. The Ayodhyan prince had been worried about what would happen to his Lord if the Meluhans tried some trickery at Devagiri. He had marched the troops all the way from Lothal to the Saraswati, through the broad Meluhan highways without a halt, breaking only for brief food breaks and minuscule rest sessions. At the Saraswati, he had commandeered as many merchant ships as possible and raced up the great river, to Devagiri.

‘Oh Lord Ram!’ whispered a stunned Bhagirath.

Gopal had just told Bhagirath about what had occurred at Devagiri and the brutal manner in which Sati had been killed.

‘Where is the Princess’ body?’ asked Chenardhwaj, tears welling up in his eyes.

‘In the peace conference building,’ said Gopal. ‘The Lord Neelkanth is with her. He hasn’t moved from there in the last twenty-four hours. He hasn’t eaten. He hasn’t spoken. He’s just sitting there, holding Princess Sati’s body.’

Chandraketu looked up at the sky. He turned around and wiped away a tear. Those pearls of emotion were signs of weakness in a Kshatriya.

‘We’ll kill every single one of those bastards!’ growled Bhagirath, his knuckles whitening on his clenched fists. ‘We’ll obliterate this entire city. There will be no trace left of this place. They have hurt our living God.’

‘Prince Bhagirath,’ said Gopal, his palms open in supplication. ‘We cannot punish the entire city. We must keep a clear head. We should only punish those who’re responsible for this assassination. We should destroy the Somras factory. We must leave the rest unharmed. That is the right thing to do...’

‘Forgive me, great Vasudev,’ interrupted Chandraketu, ‘but some crimes are so terrible that the entire community must be made to pay. They have killed Lady Sati; and, in such a brutal manner.’

‘But not everyone came out to kill her. A vast majority was not even aware of what the Emperor was up to,’ argued Gopal.

‘They could have come out to stop the killing once it had begun, couldn’t they?’ asked Chandraketu. ‘Standing by and watching a sin being committed is as bad as committing it oneself. Don’t the Vasudevs say this?’

‘This is an entirely different context, King Chandraketu,’ said Gopal.

‘I disagree, Panditji,’ said Maatali, the King of Vaishali. ‘Devagiri must pay.’

‘I think Lord Gopal is right, King Maatali,’ said Chenardhwaj, the Lothal governor. ‘We cannot punish everyone in Devagiri for the sins of a few.’

‘Why am I not surprised to hear this?’ asked Maatali.

‘What is that supposed to mean?’ asked Chenardhwaj, stung to the quick.

‘You are a Meluhan,’ said Maatali. ‘You will stand up for your people. We are Chandravanshis. We are the ones who are truly loyal to the Lord Neelkanth.’

Chenardhwaj stepped up close to Maatali threateningly. ‘I rebelled against my own people, against my country’s laws, against my vows of loyalty to Meluha because I am a follower of the Neelkanth. I am loyal to Lord Shiva. And, I don’t need to prove anything to you.’

‘Calm down everyone,’ said Chandraketu, the Branga king. ‘Let’s not forget who the real enemy is.’

‘The real enemy is Devagiri,’ said Maatali. ‘They did this to Lady Sati. They must be punished. It’s as simple as that.’

‘I agree,’ said Bhagirath. ‘We should use the Pashupatiastra.’

Gopal flared with anger. ‘The Pashupatiastra is not some random arrow that can be fired without any thought, Prince Bhagirath. It will leave total death and devastation behind in this area for centuries to come.’

‘Maybe that is what this place deserves,’ said Chandraketu.

‘These are daivi astras,’ said an agitated Gopal. ‘They cannot be used casually to settle disputes among men.’

‘Lord Shiva is not just another man,’ said Bhagirath. ‘He is divine. We must use the weapon to...’

‘We cannot use the Pashupatiastra. That is final,’ said Gopal.

‘I don’t think so, Panditji,’ said Chandraketu. ‘Lady Sati was a great leader and warrior, with the highest moral standards. The Lord Neelkanth loved Lady Sati more than I’ve seen any man love his wife. I’m sure Lord Shiva wants vengeance. And frankly, so do we.’

‘It’s not vengeance that we need, King Chandraketu,’ said Gopal. ‘But justice. The people who did this to Lady Sati must face justice. But only those who were responsible for this perfidy. Nobody else should be punished. For that would be an even bigger injustice.’

‘Yours is the voice of reason, Panditji,’ said Maatali. ‘But this is not the time for reason. This is the time for anger.’

‘I don’t think the Neelkanth will make a decision in anger,’ said Gopal.

‘Then, why don’t we ask Lord Shiva?’ asked Bhagirath. ‘Let him decide.’

‘Kill them all!’ growled Kali. ‘I want this entire city to burn with every one of its citizens in it.’

All the commanders of Shiva, including his family members, were seated in a secluded area on the peace conference platform, outside the main building. Brahaspati and Tara had also joined in, but remained mostly silent. The area had been cordoned off by soldiers to prevent anyone from listening in on the deliberations. Gopal had tried to get Shiva to attend, but the Neelkanth did not respond to any of his entreaties. He remained alone, within the freezing inner chamber, holding Sati.

‘Queen Kali,’ argued Gopal, ‘my apologies for disagreeing with you, but we cannot do this. This is morally wrong.’

‘Didn’t the Meluhans give their word that this is a peace conference? Nobody is supposed to use arms at a peace conference, right? They did something that is very morally wrong. How come you didn’t notice that, Panditji?’

‘Two wrongs don’t make a right.’

‘I don’t care,’ said Kali, waving her hand dismissively. ‘Devagiri will be destroyed. They will pay for what they did to my sister.’

‘Queen Kali,’ said Chenardhwaj carefully. ‘I respect you immensely. You are a great woman. You have always fought for justice. But does punishing an entire city for the crimes of a few serve justice?’

Kali cast him a withering look. ‘I saved your life, Chenardhwaj.’

‘I know, Your Highness. How can I forget that? That is the reason...’

‘You will do what I tell you to do,’ interrupted Kali. ‘My sister will be avenged.’

Chenardhwaj tried to argue. ‘But...’

‘MY SISTER WILL BE AVENGED!’

Chenardhwaj fell silent.

Bhagirath was carefully avoiding this discussion. While walking towards the peace conference building, he had learnt that his sister Anandmayi was in Devagiri. The city would be destroyed, but he had to save his sister first.

‘I agree with Queen Kali,’ said Chandraketu. ‘Devagiri must be destroyed. We must use the Pashupatiastra.’