the oath of the vayuputras - Page 31

‘By all the fury of Lord Rudra,’ growled Chandraketu, ‘my people have been dying for decades, our children have suffered from horrific diseases and our aged have endured agonising pain, all so that privileged Meluhans can live for two hundred years!’

Bhagirath stayed silent, allowing Chandraketu to vent his righteous anger.

‘What does the Lord Neelkanth have to say? When do we attack?’

‘I will send word to you, Your Highness,’ said Bhagirath. ‘But it will be soon, perhaps in a few months. You must mobilise your army and be ready.’

‘We will not only mobilise our army, but every single Branga who can fight. This is not just a war for us. This is vengeance.’

‘My sailors are unloading some gifts from the Nagas and from Parshuram at the Brangaridai docks. As promised by the Neelkanth, all the materials required to make the Naga medicine are being delivered to you. A Naga scientist is also going to stay here and teach you how to make the medicine yourselves. These materials, combined with the herbs you already have in your kingdom, should keep you supplied with the Naga medicine for three years.’

Chandraketu smiled slightly. ‘The Lord Neelkanth has honoured his word. He is a worthy successor to Lord Rudra.’

‘That he is.’

‘But I don’t think we will need this much medicine. The combined might of Ayodhya and Branga will ensure the defeat of Meluha well within three years. We will stop the manufacturing of the Somras and destroy their waste facility in the Himalayas. Once the waste stops poisoning the Brahmaputra, there will be no plague and no further need for any medicine.’

Bhagirath narrowed his eyes, hesitating.

‘What is it, Prince Bhagirath?’

‘Your Highness, Ayodhya is probably not going to be with us in this war.’

‘What? Are you saying Ayodhya may side with Meluha?’

‘Yes. In fact, they have already thrown in their lot with Meluha.’

‘Then why...’

Bhagirath completed the question. ‘Why do I act against my own father and kingdom?’

‘Yes. Why do you?’

‘I am a follower of my Lord, the great Neelkanth. His path is true. And I will walk on it, even if it entails fighting my own kinsmen.’

Chandraketu rose and bowed to Bhagirath. ‘It requires a special form of greatness to fight one’s own for the ideal of justice. As far as I am concerned, you are fighting for justice for the Brangas. I shall remember this gesture, Prince Bhagirath.’

Bhagirath smiled, happy with the way the conversation had progressed. He had accomplished the task that Shiva had given him, but in such a manner as to win the personal allegiance of the fabulously wealthy King of Branga. This alliance would prove useful when he made his move for the throne of Ayodhya. Having heard of Chandraketu’s sentimental nature, Bhagirath thought it wise to seal the alliance in blood.

He pulled out his knife, slit his palm and held it up to the king. ‘May my blood flow in your veins, my brother.’

A moist-eyed Chandraketu immediately pulled out his own knife, slit his palm and held it against Bhagirath’s bloodied hand. ‘And may my blood flow in yours.’

Sitting aft on the deck of the lead ship of the Vasudev-Naga fleet, Brahaspati, Nandi and Parshuram could make out the outlines of Ganesh and Kartik practising their swordsmanship in the vessel behind them. Farther back, Shiva sat with Sati on a higher deck.

Brahaspati’s emotions were tinged with bitter regret. ‘My mission has gained a leader but I have lost a friend.’

Nandi turned towards Brahaspati. ‘Of course not, Brahaspatiji, the Lord Neelkanth continues to love you.’

Brahaspati raised his eyebrows and smiled. ‘Nandi, lying does not behove you.’

Nandi laughed softly. ‘If it makes you feel better, I can tell you that Lord Shiva missed you dearly when he believed that you were dead. You were always on his mind.’

‘I wouldn’t have expected any less,’ said Brahaspati. ‘But I don’t think he understands why I did what I did.’

‘To be honest,’ said Nandi, ‘neither do I. It was important to fake your death, I concede. But you probably should have revealed the truth to Lord Shiva.’

‘I couldn’t have,’ said Brahaspati. ‘Shiva is the son-in-law of Emperor Daksha, my prime enemy. Had Daksha known that I was alive, he would have sent assassins after me. I wouldn’t have lived long enough to conduct the experiments I needed to. And I had no way of knowing whether Shiva would have enough faith in me to not reveal anything to Daksha.’

Parshuram tried to console Brahaspati. ‘He has forgiven you. Trust me, he has.’

‘He may have forgiven me, but I don’t think he has understood me as yet,’ said Brahaspati. ‘I hope there comes a time when I will get my friend back.’

‘It will happen,’ said Parshuram. ‘Once the Somras is destroyed, we will all go with the Lord to Mount Kailash and live happily ever after.’

Nandi smiled. ‘Mount Kailash is far less hospitable than you imagine, Parshuram. I should know for I have been there. It is no luxurious paradise.’

‘Any place would be paradise so long as we sit at the feet of Lord Shiva.’

‘Have you worn kajal in your eyes?’ asked a surprised Shiva.

Reclining in an easy chair on the raised private deck, Shiva had been gazing fondly at his children as they sparred with each other, swords at the ready. Sati seated herself and leaned close against him, briefly lost in the moment.

Shiva had rarely seen Sati use make-up. He believed her beauty was so ethereal that it did not need any embellishment.

Sati looked up at Shiva with a shy smile. Her pronounced Suryavanshi personality had been subtly influenced by Chandravanshi women, particularly Anandmayi. She was discovering the pleasures of beauty, especially when experienced through the appreciative eyes of the man she loved. ‘Yes. I thought you hadn’t noticed.’

The kohl accentuated Sati’s large almond-shaped eyes and her bashful smile made her dimples spring to life.

Shiva was mesmerised, as always. ‘Wow... It looks nice...’

Sati laughed softly as she edged up to Shiva’s face, and kissed him lightly.

Ganesh and Kartik were engaged in a furious duel on the fore deck. As had become a tradition with them, they fought with real weapons instead of wooden swords. They believed that the risk of serious injury would focus their minds and improve their practice. They would halt just before a killer strike and demonstrate to the other that an opening had been found.

Converting his smaller size to his advantage, Kartik pressed close to Ganesh, cramping him and making it difficult for his taller opponent to strike freely. Ganesh stepped back and swung his shield down in a seemingly defensive motion, but halted the movement inches from Kartik’s shoulder.

‘Kartik, my shield has a knife,’ said Ganesh, as he pressed a lever to release it. ‘This is a strike on my account. I’ve said this to you before: fighting with two swords is too aggressive. You should use a shield. You ended up leaving an opening for me.’

Kartik smiled. ‘No, dada. The strike is mine. Look down.’

Ganesh’s eyes fell on his chest as he felt a light touch of metal. Kartik was holding his left sword the other way round, with a small blade sticking out of the hilt end. He had managed to turn the sword around, release the knife and bring it in close, all the while giving the feint of an open right flank to Ganesh. Shiva’s elder son had assumed that Kartik had pulled his left sword out of combat.