the oath of the vayuputras - Page 14

‘Parvateshwar, Ayurvati, welcome,’ said Shiva, ‘I called you here because it is time now for you to know the secret of the Nagas.’

Parvateshwar looked up, surprised. ‘But why only the two of us, My Lord?’

‘Because the both of you are Meluhans. I have reason to suspect that the attack on us at the Godavari is linked to many things: the plague in Branga, the plight of the Nagas and the drying up of the Saraswati.’

Parvateshwar and Ayurvati were flummoxed.

‘But I am certain about one thing,’ said Shiva. ‘The attack is connected to the destruction of Mount Mandar.’

‘What?! How?’

‘Only one man can explain it. One whom you believe is dead.’

Ayurvati and Parvateshwar spun around as they heard the door open.

Brahaspati walked in quietly.

‘The Somras is Evil?’ asked Anandmayi incredulously. ‘Is that what the Lord Neelkanth thinks?’

Parvateshwar and Anandmayi were in their chambers at the Panchavati guest colony. Bhagirath had just joined them.

‘I’m not sure about what he thinks,’ said Parvateshwar. ‘But Brahaspati seems to think so.’

‘But Evil is supposed to be Evil for everybody,’ said Bhagirath. ‘Why should a Suryavanshi turncoat decide what Evil is? Why should we listen to him? Why should the Neelkanth listen to him?’

‘Bhagirath, do you expect me to defend Brahaspati, the man who destroyed the soul of our empire?’ asked Parvateshwar.

‘Just a minute,’ said Anandmayi, raising her hand. ‘Think this through... If the plague in Branga is linked to the Somras, if the slow depletion of the river Saraswati is linked to the Somras, if the birth of the Nagas is linked to the Somras, then isn’t it fair to think that maybe it is Evil?’

‘So what is the Neelkanth planning to do? Does he want to ban the Somras?’ asked Bhagirath.

‘I don’t know, Bhagirath!’ snapped an irritated Parvateshwar, his world having turned upside down because of Daksha and now Brahaspati. ‘You keep asking me questions, the answers to which I do not know!’

Anandmayi placed her hand on Parvateshwar’s shoulders. ‘Perhaps the Neelkanth is just as shocked as we are. He needs to think things over. He cannot afford to make hasty decisions.’

‘Well, he has made one already,’ said Parvateshwar.

Bhagirath and Anandmayi looked at Parvateshwar curiously.

‘We are to leave for Swadweep once all have recovered from their injuries. The Lord has asked us to wait for him at Kashi till he decides his next move. He believes King Athithigva has not sold out to Ayodhya in the conspiracy to assassinate us on the Godavari.’

‘But if we go to Kashi, my father will get to know that we are alive,’ said Bhagirath. ‘He will know his attack has failed.’

‘We have to keep quiet about it. We have to pretend that nothing happened, that we were not attacked at all. That we made an uneventful journey to Panchavati and back.’

‘Won’t they wonder about their ships?’

‘The Lord says that’s all right. Many things can happen during long sea and river voyages. They may believe their ships met with an accident before they could attack us.’

Bhagirath raised his eyebrows. ‘My father may be stupid enough to believe that story. But he is not the leader. Whoever put together a conspiracy of this scale will certainly investigate what went wrong.’

‘But investigations take time, allowing the Neelkanth to check whatever else it is that he needs to.’

‘The Lord is not coming with us?’ asked a surprised Anandmayi.

Parvateshwar shook his head. ‘No. And the Lord has said we should let it be known that neither his family nor he is with us at Kashi. It should be publicised that he remains in Panchavati. The Lord believes that it will keep us safe as the attack was aimed at him.’

‘That can mean only one thing,’ said Bhagirath. ‘He chooses to take Brahaspati at face value but wants to ascertain a few more things before he makes up his mind.’

Anandmayi looked at her husband with concern in her eyes. She knew that a war was approaching. Perhaps the biggest war that India had ever seen. And in all probability, Meluha and Shiva would be on opposite sides. Which side would her husband choose?

‘Whatever happens,’ said Anandmayi, holding Parvateshwar’s face, ‘we must have faith in the Neelkanth.’

Parvateshwar nodded silently.

Shiva, Parshuram and Nandi were sitting on the banks of the Godavari. Shiva took a deep drag from the chillum as he looked towards the river, lost in thought. He let out a sigh as he turned to his friends. ‘Are you sure, Parshuram?’

‘Yes, My Lord,’ replied Parshuram. ‘I can even take you to the uppermost point of the mighty Brahmaputra, where she is the Tsangpo. But I wouldn’t recommend it, for fatalities can be high on that treacherous route.’

Shiva’s silence provoked Parshuram to probe further, ‘What is it about that river, My Lord?’ He had been intrigued by the abnormal interest shown by the Nagas in the Brahmaputra’s course as well. ‘First the Nagas, now you; why is everyone so interested in it?’

‘It may be the carrier of Evil, Parshuram.’

Nandi looked up in surprise. ‘Doesn’t the Tsangpo begin close to your own home in Tibet, My Lord?’

‘Yes, Nandi,’ said Shiva. ‘It seems Evil has been closer than it initially appeared.’

Nandi remained quiet. He was one of the few who knew the ships that attacked Shiva’s convoy were from Meluha. He knew what he had to do. If it came to a choice between Shiva and his country, he would choose Shiva. But it still hurt him immensely. He knew he might have to be a part of an army that would attack his beloved motherland, Meluha. He hated his fate for having put him in such a situation.

‘I think I know how to find the mastermind, My Lord,’ said Bhagirath.

He had sought an appointment with Shiva as soon as he had stepped out of Parvateshwar’s chambers. He knew that his father had decided to oppose the Neelkanth. It made sense therefore for Bhagirath to immediately prove his loyalty to Shiva. He didn’t expect Shiva to lose. Regardless of the opinion of the kings, the people would be with the Neelkanth.

‘How?’ asked Shiva.

‘You’d agree that my father hardly has the wherewithal to draw up such an elaborate plan. I’d say his selfish needs have made him succumb to the evil designs of another.’

Shiva edged forward, intrigued. ‘You think he has been bribed? Your father is in no need of money.’

‘What can be a better bribe than life itself, My Lord? Had you seen my father a few years back, you would have thought he was but a small step away from the cremation pyre. A life of debauchery and drink had wreaked havoc within his body. But today, he looks younger than I have ever known.’

‘The Somras?’

‘I don’t think so. I know he had tried the Somras in the past. It hadn’t worked. Somebody is supplying him with superior medicines. Something that is otherwise unavailable to even a king.’

Shiva’s eyes widened. Who could be more powerful, more knowledgeable than a king?

‘Do you think a maharishi is helping him?’

Bhagirath shook his head. ‘No, My Lord. I think a maharishi is leading him.’