the oath of the vayuputras - Page 30

Shiva smiled and patted Gopal on his back.

‘Rather than the destination it is the journey that lends meaning to our lives, great Neelkanth. Being faithful to our path will lead to consequences, both good as well as evil. For that is the way of the universe.’

‘For instance, my journey may have a positive effect on the future of India. But it will certainly be negative for those who are addicted to the Somras. Perhaps that is my purpose.’

‘Exactly. Lord Vasudev had held we should be under no illusion that we are in control of our own breathing. We should realise the simple truth that we are “being breathed”; we are being kept alive because our journey serves a purpose. When our purpose is served, our breathing will stop and the universe will change our form to something else, so that we may serve another purpose.’

Shiva smiled.

Chapter 11

The Branga Alliance

Parvateshwar’s entourage had sailed up the Madhumati to the point where it broke off from the mighty Branga River. There they had dropped anchor as they waited for Bhagirath’s return. Bhagirath’s ship had turned east and sailed down the main distributary of the Branga, the massive Padma. A week later his ship docked at the port of Brangaridai, the capital city of the Branga kingdom.

King Chandraketu had been informed of Bhagirath’s arrival. The King of Branga had ensured that the Prince of Ayodhya was escorted with due honour to his palace. As Bhagirath was led into the private palace rather than the formal court, he acknowledged that Chandraketu was not treating him as the crown prince of Swadweep, but as a friend.

Bhagirath found Chandraketu waiting at the palace door along with his wife and daughter. The King of Branga folded his hands in a formal Namaste. ‘How are you doing, brave Prince of Ayodhya?’

Bhagirath smiled and bowed his head as he returned the Namaste. ‘I’m doing well, Your Highness.’

Chandraketu looked at his consort with a fond smile. ‘Prince Bhagirath, this is my wife Queen Sneha.’

Bhagirath bowed towards Sneha. ‘Greetings, Your Highness.’

A chivalrous Bhagirath then went down on one knee to face the six-year-old girl who looked at him with twinkling eyes. ‘And who might this lovely lady be?’

Chandraketu smiled. ‘That is my daughter, Princess Navya.’

‘Namaste, young lady,’ said Bhagirath.

Navya slid behind her mother, hiding her face.

Bhagirath smiled broadly. ‘I am a friend of your father, my child. You don’t have to be afraid of me.’

‘You smell funny...’ whispered Navya, sticking her face out.

A startled Bhagirath burst into laughter.

Chandraketu folded his hands together. ‘My apologies, Prince Bhagirath. She can be a little direct sometimes.’

Bhagirath controlled his mirth. ‘No. No. She’s speaking the truth.’ He turned to Navya. ‘But young lady, I was always taught to be polite to strangers. Don’t you think that’s important as well?’

‘Politeness does not mean lying,’ said Navya. ‘Lord Ram had said we should always speak the truth. Always.’

Bhagirath raised his eyebrows in surprise before turning to Chandraketu. ‘Wow. Quoting Lord Ram at this age? She’s smart.’

‘Well, she is very intelligent,’ said an obviously proud Chandraketu.

Bhagirath turned fondly towards Navya. ‘Of course you’re right, my child. I carry the odour of a long and rigorous voyage. I will make sure I bathe before I meet you next. You will not find my smell offensive the next time, I wager.’

Chandraketu laughed. ‘Be warned, great Prince, little Navya has never lost a bet.’

Navya smiled at her mother. ‘He does not seem all that bad, maa. I guess not all Ayodhyan royals are bad...’

Bhagirath laughed once again. ‘King Chandraketu, I think we should retire to your chambers before any more assaults are made upon my dignity.’

A smiling Chandraketu nodded to his wife and then turned to Bhagirath. ‘Come with me, Prince Bhagirath.’

‘Baba...’ whispered Ganesh.

Ganesh had just entered Shiva’s chambers in the central ship of the joint Vasudev-Naga convoy.

Shiva looked up as he put the palm-leaf book aside. ‘What is it, my son?’

A nervous Ganesh whispered, ‘I need to speak with you.’

Shiva pointed to the chair next to him as he lifted his feet off the table.

Ganesh took a deep breath. ‘Baba, there may be some complications with Magadh.’

Shiva smiled. ‘I was wondering when you were going to bring that up.’

Ganesh frowned. ‘You knew?’

‘I know Ugrasen was killed by a Naga. I understand that complicates things.’

Ganesh kept silent.

‘Well? Do you know who killed him? If it was a criminal act then we should support Surapadman. Not only would justice be served but it would also help pull Magadh to our side.’

Ganesh didn’t say anything.

Shiva frowned. ‘Ganesh?’

‘It was me,’ confessed Ganesh.

Shiva’s eyes widened. ‘Well... this certainly complicates things...’

Ganesh stayed mute.

‘Did you have a good reason?’

‘Yes I did, baba.’

‘What was it?’

‘The Chandravanshi nobility has always patronised the tradition of bull racing. In the quest for the lightest riders, the sport has degenerated to the extent that innocent young boys are being kidnapped and forced to ride the charging bulls. This cruel sport has left innumerable children maimed and some have even died painful deaths.’

Shiva looked at Ganesh in horror. ‘What kind of barbaric men would do that to children?’

‘Men like Ugrasen. I found him trying to kidnap a young boy. The boy’s mother was refusing to let him go, so Ugrasen and his men were on the verge of killing her. I had no choice...’

Shiva recalled something that Kali had mentioned. ‘Is that the time when you were seriously injured?’

‘Yes, baba.’

Shiva breathed deeply. Ganesh had once again shown tremendous character, fighting injustice even at risk to his own life. Shiva was proud of his son. ‘You did the right thing.’

‘I’m sorry if I have complicated the issue.’

Shiva smiled and shook his head.

‘What happened, baba?’

‘The ways of the world are really strange,’ said Shiva. ‘You protected an innocent child and his mother from an immoral prince. The Magadhans though, did not hesitate to spread a lie that Ugrasen died defending Magadh from a Naga terrorist attack. And people chose to believe that lie.’

Ganesh shrugged his shoulders. ‘The Nagas have always been treated this way. The lies never stop.’

Shiva looked up at the ceiling of his cabin.

‘What do we do now?’ asked Ganesh.

‘Nothing different. We’ll stick to the plan. Let us hope that Surapadman is ambitious enough to realise where the interests of Magadh lie.’

Ganesh nodded.

‘And you stay in Kashi,’ continued Shiva. ‘Don’t come with us to Magadh.’

‘Yes, baba.’

Fists clenched, Chandraketu tried hard to suppress the anger welling up within him. Bhagirath had just told him about the Somras waste being responsible for the plague that had been devastating Branga for generations.