‘You say that you have been waiting for me. And yet you hid all traces of yourself. Why?’
‘I always trusted you, Shiva,’ said Brahaspati, ‘but I could not trust all those who were around you. They would have prevented me from accomplishing my mission. I might even have been assassinated had they learnt about my plans. My mission, I admit, prevailed over my love for you. It was only when you parted ways with them, that I could meet you safely.’
‘That’s a lie. You wanted to meet me because you needed me for the success of your mission. Because you now know you cannot accomplish it by yourself.’
Brahaspati smiled wanly. ‘It was never meant to be my mission, great Neelkanth. It was always yours.’
Shiva looked at Brahaspati, expressionless.
‘You are partially right,’ said Brahaspati. ‘I wanted to meet you... No, I needed to meet you because I have failed. The coin of Good and Evil is flipping over and India needs the Neelkanth. It needs you, Shiva. Otherwise, Evil will destroy this beautiful land of ours.’
Shiva, while continuing to stare noncommittally at Brahaspati, asked, ‘The coin is flipping over, you say?’
Shiva remembered Lord Manu’s words. Good and Evil are two sides of the same coin.
The Neelkanth’s eyes widened. The key question isn’t ‘What is Evil?’ The key question is: ‘When does Good become Evil? When does the coin flip?’
Brahaspati continued to watch Shiva keenly. Lord Manu’s rules were explicit; he could not suggest anything. The Mahadev had to discover and decide for himself.
Shiva took a deep breath and ran his hand over his blue throat. It still felt intolerably cold. It seemed as if the journey would have to end where it had begun.
What is the greatest Good; the Good that created this age? The answer was obvious. And therefore, the greatest Evil was exactly the same thing, once it began to disturb the balance.
Shiva looked at Brahaspati. ‘Tell me why...’
Brahaspati remained silent, waiting... The question had to be more specific.
‘Tell me why you think the Somras has tipped over from the greatest Good to the greatest Evil.’
Bits and pieces of the wreckage had been dutifully brought by the soldiers for examination by Parvateshwar and Bhagirath, who squatted at a distance.
Shiva had asked the Meluhan general and the Ayodhyan prince to investigate the wreckage. They had been tasked with determining the antecedents of the men who had attacked their convoy on the way to Panchavati. Parvateshwar and Bhagirath had stayed behind with a hundred soldiers while the rest of Shiva’s convoy had carried on to Panchavati.
Parvateshwar glanced at Bhagirath and then turned back to the wooden planks. Slowly but surely, his worst fears were coming true.
He turned to look at the hundred Suryavanshi soldiers who stood at a respectable distance, as they had been instructed. He was relieved. It was best if they did not see what had been revealed. The rivets on the planks were clearly Meluhan.
‘I hope Lord Ram has mercy on your soul, Emperor Daksha,’ he shook his head and sighed.
Bhagirath turned towards Parvateshwar, frowning. ‘What happened?’
Parvateshwar looked at Bhagirath, anger writ large on his face. ‘Meluha has been let down. Its fair name has been tarnished forever; tarnished by the one sworn to protect it.’
Bhagirath kept quiet.
‘These ships were sent by Emperor Daksha,’ Parvateshwar said softly.
Bhagirath moved closer, his eyes showing disbelief. ‘What? Why do you say that?’
‘These rivets are clearly Meluhan. These ships were built in my land.’
Bhagirath narrowed his eyes. He had noticed something completely different and was stunned by the general’s statement. ‘Parvateshwar, look at the wood. Look at the casing around the edges.’
Parvateshwar frowned. He did not recognise the casing.
‘It improves water-proofing in the joints,’ said Bhagirath.
Parvateshwar looked at his brother-in-law, curious.
‘This technology is from Ayodhya.’
‘Lord Ram, be merciful!’
‘Yes! It looks like Emperor Daksha and my weakling father have formed an alliance against the Neelkanth.’
Bhrigu, Daksha and Dilipa were in the Meluhan emperor’s private chambers in Devagiri. Dilipa and Bhrigu had arrived the previous day.
‘Do you think they have succeeded in their mission, My Lord?’ asked Dilipa.
Daksha seemed remote and disinterested. He felt the intense pain of separation from his beloved daughter Sati. The terrible event at Kashi, more than a year ago, still haunted him. He’d lost his child and with it, all the love he ever felt in his heart.
A few months ago Bhrigu had hatched a plan to assassinate the Neelkanth, along with his entire convoy, en route to Panchavati. They had sent five ships up the Godavari River to first attack Shiva’s convoy, and then move on to destroy Panchavati as well. There were to be no survivors who would bear witness to what actually took place. Attacking an unprepared enemy was not unethical. In one fell swoop, all those inimical to them would be destroyed. But it was possible only if Daksha and Dilipa joined hands, as they together had the means as well as the technology.
The people of India would be told that the ghastly Nagas had lured the simple and trusting Neelkanth to their city and assassinated him. Knowing the significance of simplicity in propaganda, Bhrigu had come up with a new title for Shiva: Bholenath, the simple one, the one who is easily misled. Laying the blame on the treachery of the Nagas and the simplicity of the Neelkanth would mean that Daksha and Dilipa would be spared the backlash. And the hatred for the Nagas would be strengthened manifold.
Bhrigu glanced at Daksha briefly and then turned his attention back to Dilipa. The Saptrishi Uttradhikari seemed to place his trust on Dilipa more than the Meluhan now. ‘They should have succeeded. We’ll soon receive reports from the commander.’
Dilipa’s face twitched. He took a deep breath to calm his nerves. ‘I hope it is never revealed that we did this. The wrath of my people would be terrible. Killing the Neelkanth with this subterfuge...’
Bhrigu interrupted Dilipa, his voice calm. ‘He was not the Neelkanth. He was an imposter. The Vayuputra council did not create him. It did not even recognise him.’
Dilipa frowned. He had always heard rumours but had never really been sure as to whether the Vayuputras, the legendary tribe left behind by the previous Mahadev, Lord Rudra, actually existed.
‘Then how did his throat turn blue?’ asked Dilipa.
Bhrigu looked at Daksha and shook his head in exasperation. ‘I don’t know. It is a mystery. I knew the Vayuputra council had obviously not created a Neelkanth, for they are still debating whether Evil has risen. Therefore, I did not object to the Emperor of Meluha persisting with his search for the Neelkanth. I knew there was no possibility of a Neelkanth actually being discovered.’
Dilipa looked stunned.
‘Imagine my surprise,’ continued Bhrigu, ‘when this endeavour actually led them to an apparent Neelkanth. But a blue throat did not mean that he was capable of being the saviour. He had not been trained. He had not been educated for his task. He had not been appointed for it by the Vayuputra council. But Emperor Daksha felt he could control this simple tribal from Tibet and achieve his ambitions for Meluha. I made a mistake in trusting His Highness.’