the oath of the vayuputras - Page 32

Ganesh stood with his eyes wide open, seriously impressed with his brother. ‘How in Lady Bhoomidevi’s name did you manage that?’

Shiva, who had seen the entire manoeuvre from his upper deck, was equally impressed with Kartik. He pulled back from Sati and shouted out, ‘Bravo Kartik!’

Sensing angry eyes boring into him, Shiva immediately turned towards Sati. She was glaring at her husband, holding her breath irritably, her lips still puckered.

‘I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry,’ said Shiva, trying to draw close and kiss Sati again.

Sati pushed Shiva’s face away with mock irritation. ‘The moment’s passed...’

‘I’m so sorry. It’s just that what Kartik did was...’

‘Of course,’ whispered Sati, shaking her head and smiling.

‘It’ll not happen again...’

‘It better not...’

‘I’m sorry...’

Sati shook her head and rested it on Shiva’s chest. Shiva pulled her close. ‘I love the kajal. I didn’t think it was possible for you to look even more beautiful.’

Sati looked up at Shiva and rolled her eyes. She slapped him lightly on his chest. ‘Too little, too late.’

Chapter 12

Troubled Waters

‘How was it?’ asked Anandmayi.

Bhagirath had sailed up the Padma and reached Parvateshwar’s vessel which was anchored at the point where the river broke away from the Branga River. The captain was preparing to raise anchor and start sailing onward. Parvateshwar, Anandmayi and Ayurvati had been waiting for Bhagirath at the aft deck, eager for the news from Branga.

Bhagirath looked briefly at Parvateshwar and Ayurvati, before turning to Anandmayi. ‘What do you think?’

‘Did you tell him everything?’ asked Ayurvati.

‘That is exactly what the Lord Neelkanth had asked me to do,’ answered Bhagirath.

Parvateshwar took a deep breath and walked away.

Anandmayi looked at her husband before turning back. ‘So what did Branga say, Bhagirath?’

‘King Chandraketu is livid that his people have been suffering from a murderous plague so that the Meluhans can live extra-long lives.’

‘But I hope you told him that most Meluhans did not know this,’ said Ayurvati. ‘Had we known that the Somras was causing this evil in Branga, we would not have used it.’

Bhagirath looked disbelievingly at Ayurvati and sarcastically remarked, ‘I did tell him that most Meluhans did not know about the devastation their addiction had caused. Strangely, it did not seem to lessen King Chandraketu’s anger.’

Ayurvati remained silent.

Anandmayi spoke irritably, ‘Can you stop being judgemental for a moment and just tell me what is going to happen in Branga now?’

‘For now King Chandraketu is going to concentrate on manufacturing the medicines that his people need,’ said Bhagirath. ‘But at the same time, he has already started mobilising for war. He will be ready and waiting in three months for the Lord Neelkanth’s orders.’

Ayurvati’s eyes welled up with tears as she wistfully looked at Parvateshwar in the distance. She felt the anguish in his noble heart. For hers was just as heavy.

‘My Lord,’ said Siamantak, the Ayodhyan prime minister, as he entered Emperor Dilipa’s chambers, ‘I’ve just received word that Maharishi Bhrigu is on his way.’

‘Lord Bhrigu?’ asked a surprised Dilipa. ‘Here?’

‘The advance boat has just come in, Your Highness,’ said Siamantak. ‘Lord Bhrigu should be here by tomorrow.’

‘Why wasn’t I informed earlier?’

‘I did not know either, Your Highness.’

‘Meluha should not have done this. They should have informed us in advance before sending Lord Bhrigu here.’

‘What can I say about Meluha, My Lord? Typically disdainful.’

A nervous Dilipa ran his hands across his face. ‘Is there any news from the shipyard? Are our ships close to completion?’

Siamantak swallowed anxiously. ‘No, Your Highness. You’d asked me to pay attention to the pavement dweller issue and...’

‘I KNOW WHAT I’D ASKED YOU TO DO! JUST ANSWER MY QUESTION WITH A SIMPLE YES OR NO!’

‘I’m sorry, Your Highness. No, the ships are nowhere near completion.’

‘By when will the job be done?’

‘If we stop doing everything else then I guess we should be ready in another six to nine months.’

Dilipa seemed to breathe easier. ‘That’s not so bad. Nothing’s going to happen in the next nine months.’

‘Yes, Your Highness.’

Emperor Dilipa was with Maharishi Bhrigu at the Ayodhya shipyard. The Meluhan brigadier, Prasanjit, stood at a distance.

Declining the hospitality which awaited him on landing, Bhrigu had headed directly for the shipyard. A flustered Dilipa had perforce followed him, courtiers and all. He gestured for Siamantak and all his courtiers to maintain a distance. He knew that Bhrigu was angry and expected an earful.

‘Your Highness,’ said Bhrigu slowly, keeping his temper on a tight leash, ‘you had promised me that your ships would be ready.’

‘I know, My Lord,’ said Dilipa softly. ‘But honestly, a few months’ delay is not going to hurt us. It has been many months since our attack on Panchavati. There has been absolutely no news of the Neelkanth. I’m sure we have succeeded. We don’t really need to be nervous. I honestly think that the likelihood of a war is substantially reduced.’

Bhrigu turned to Dilipa. ‘Your Highness, may I request that you leave the thinking to me?’

Dilipa immediately fell silent.

‘Was it not your suggestion to commandeer your trade ships and refit them for war?’

‘Yes it was, My Lord,’ said Dilipa.

‘I had suggested that we are not likely to fight naval battles on the Ganga. I had told you that we will only need transport ships, for which your trade ships were good enough.’

‘Yes, you had, My Lord.’

‘Yet you had insisted that in the likelihood of there being river battles, it would be a good idea to have battleships.’

‘Yes, My Lord.’

‘And I agreed on one condition alone – that the battleships would be ready in six months. Correct?’

‘Yes, My Lord.’

‘It has been seven months now. You have stripped down the trade ships but have still not refitted them. So now, seven months later, not only do we not have any battleships, but we also don’t have any trade-transport ships.’

‘I know it looks very bad, My Lord,’ said Dilipa, wiping his brow with his fingers. ‘But the pavement-dwellers here had gone on a hunger strike.’

A confused Bhrigu raised his hands in exasperation. ‘What does that have to do with the ships?’

‘My Lord,’ explained Dilipa patiently, ‘in my benevolence, I had decreed that no Ayodhyan shall be roofless. Of course, this onerous task was assigned to the Royal Committee of Internal Affairs, which looks after both housing as well as the royal shipyard. The committee has been seriously debating the execution of this grand scheme over the last three years. Following our last conversation though, I thought it fit to direct the committee to focus on building ships. The resultant neglect of the free housing scheme angered the pavement-dwellers to the point of mass agitation. Public order being paramount, I redirected the committee to concentrate on the housing scheme. I am glad to say that the seventh version of the housing report, which judiciously takes into account the views of all the citizens, should be ready soon. Once accepted, obviously the committee can then give its undiluted attention to the matter of building ships.’