Bhagirath was stunned. What logic was this? She inclined her head in a half nod towards him, and again began walking with perfect composure back into the city.
Gopal’s voice came from behind him. ‘I know. They all say the same thing. I am Meluhan. The Law has been broken. It is my karma.’
They stood in silence together and watched the woman go.
‘Prince Bhagirath.’ The two of them started slightly, pulled out of their silent contemplation.
‘Yes, Kartik?’ said Bhagirath, turning to face him.
‘I want you to call General Parvateshwar.’
‘I have already sent in a messenger to get Anandmayi,’ said Bhagirath. ‘But neither she nor her husband has come as yet. She will not leave without Parvateshwar. I’m still trying to convince the both of them.’
‘Tell them,’ said Gopal, ‘Lord Kartik and I have invited them here. We need to talk about something that is important for India’s future.’
Bhagirath frowned. He knew that what Gopal and Kartik were suggesting was the only way to get his sister and her husband out of Devagiri, tenuous though it may be.
‘I will go into the city myself,’ said Bhagirath.
‘And, Prince Bhagirath...’ Gopal hesitated.
‘I understand, Panditji. I will not breathe a word of this to anyone.’
They stood in silence together, looking at a city that would no longer exist tomorrow.
‘Excuse me,’ said a voice. They turned around to see a small group of Meluhans.
‘Yes?’ asked Kartik.
‘We left the city this morning but have changed our minds now. We would like to stay. May we go back in?’
Gopal stared at them in disbelief, and Bhagirath dropped his eyes, praying that he would be able to convince his sister to leave.
It was late into the third prahar and the sun was on its way down. This would be the last time that the sun would set on Devagiri. Veerini looked up at the sky as she walked out of the Devagiri royal palace.
‘Your Highness,’ saluted a guard smartly, falling into step behind her.
Veerini absently waved her hand and walked towards the gate.
‘Your Highness? Are you leaving?’ asked the shocked guard.
He seemed genuinely stunned that the Meluhan queen was abandoning them and taking up the Neelkanth’s offer of amnesty.
Veerini didn’t bother with a reply but continued walking down the road, towards the Svarna platform gate.
‘Has this been ordered by the Neelkanth?’ asked Anandmayi, before looking at her husband.
Parvateshwar and she were in a secluded section outside the Tamra platform, speaking with Gopal, Kartik and Bhagirath.
‘It’s what he would want,’ said Gopal. ‘He just doesn’t know it at this point of time.’
Parvateshwar frowned. ‘If the Neelkanth has said no, then it means no.’
‘General, I appreciate your loyalty,’ said Gopal. ‘But there is also the larger picture. The Somras is evil now. But it’s not supposed to be completely destroyed. You know as well as I do, it’s only supposed to be taken out of the equation. We have to keep the knowledge of the Somras alive, for it may well be required again. It’s the future of India that we are talking about.’
‘Are you suggesting that the Lord Neelkanth doesn’t care about India?’ asked Parvateshwar.
‘I’m saying no such thing, General,’ said Gopal. ‘But...’
Kartik suddenly stepped in. ‘I appreciate your loyalty to my father. And, I’m sure you’re aware of my love for him as well.’
Parvateshwar nodded, not saying anything.
‘My father is distraught at this point in time,’ said Kartik. ‘You know of his devotion to my mother. The grief of her death has clouded his mind. He is furious, and rightly so. But you also know that his heart is pure. He would not want to do anything that is against his dharma. I only intend to keep the technology of the Somras alive till my father’s rage subsides. If, after calm reflection, he still decides that everything associated with the Somras should be destroyed, I will personally see to it.’
Parvateshwar stared into space, his eyes brooding and dark.
‘And in order to do that you must ensure the survival of the Brahmins, together with their Somras libraries,’ he sighed. ‘Many of those Somras-worshipping intellectuals would grab the opportunity to live. But there are some who have heard the call of honour. Kartik, you cannot coerce a man to forsake his honour. You cannot force him to live, particularly if it is to continue the Somras which his Neekanth has declared Evil, and which is causing the destruction of his homeland.’
Kartik held Parvateshwar’s hand. ‘General, my mother appeared in a dream to me. She told me to do the right thing. She told me to remember how she lived, and not how she died. Even you know she would have done exactly what I’m trying to do.’
Parvateshwar looked up at the sky and quickly wiped a tear. He was quiet for a long time. ‘All right, Kartik,’ he said at last. ‘I will bring those people out. I will talk them out where I can, and force them out where I cannot. But remember, they are your responsibility. They cannot be allowed to propagate Evil any longer. Only the Lord Neelkanth can decide the fate of the Somras. Not you, not Lord Gopal, nor anyone else.’
Veerini rapidly walked down the Svarna platform steps as all the assembled people made way for their queen. Maatali’s forces were in charge here, checking the papers and antecedents of everyone who sought to leave the city. The soldiers saluted Veerini. She acknowledged them distractedly but kept walking towards the massive wooden tower being constructed a good four kilometres from the city. That was the base from which the Pashupatiastra missile would be launched.
As she neared the tower, Veerini could see Shiva issuing instructions. She immediately recognised the woman who stood next to him: Brahaspati’s love, Tara. Ganesh was working with Tara, his brilliant engineering skills coming in handy in building the solid tower. Kali sat a little distance away on a rock, seemingly lost in thought.
Kali was the first to see her. ‘Maa!’
Veerini walked up to Shiva as Kali and Ganesh stepped up.
Shiva looked at Veerini with glazed eyes, the now-constant throbbing pain in his brow making it difficult for him to focus. Veerini had always been struck by Shiva’s eyes; the intelligence, focus and mirth that resided in them. She believed that it was his eyes rather than his blue throat that were the foundation of his charisma. But they now reflected nothing but pain and grief, giving a glimpse into a soul that had lost its reason to live.
Shiva had not for a moment suspected that Veerini was involved with Sati’s assassination in any way. He bowed his head and brought his hands together in a respectful Namaste.
Veerini held Shiva’s hand, her eyes drawn to the throbbing blackish-red blotch on his brow. ‘My son, I can’t even imagine the pain that you are going through.’
Shiva was quiet, looking lost and broken.
‘I gave my word to Sati, a promise she extracted from me just before her death. I am here to fulfil it.’
Shiva’s eyes suddenly found their focus. He looked up at Veerini.
‘She insisted that she be cremated by both her sons.’
Ganesh, who was standing next to Veerini, sucked in his breath as tears slipped from his eyes. Tradition held that while the eldest child cremated the father, it was the youngest who conducted the funeral proceedings of the mother. Also, it was considered inauspicious for Nagas to be involved in any funeral ceremony. So Ganesh had not expected the honour of lighting his mother’s pyre.