‘The captain of the ship met me in the evening,’ said Sati. ‘All the weapons have been loaded. We can sail for Kashi tomorrow morning.’
‘Good,’ said Shiva. ‘We can begin our campaign within a few weeks.’
Gopal had anticipated this. ‘I have already sent a message to the pandit of the Narsimha temple in Magadh. He will relay it to King Chandraketu, who will then set sail with an armada and await further instructions at the port of Vaishali.’
‘Bhagirath, Ganesh and Kartik will travel with them to Ayodhya,’ said Shiva. ‘Ganesh will lead the Eastern Command.’
‘A wise choice,’ said Gopal.
‘The Western Army, comprising the Vasudevs, the Nagas and those Brangas who have been assigned to the Nagas, will attack Meluha under my command. We will set sail along with Kali and Parvateshwar within a week of reaching Kashi.’
‘I have already sent a message to Ujjain,’ said Gopal. ‘The army has marched out with dismantled sections of our ships which will be reassembled on the Narmada. We will sail together to the Western Sea and farther up the coast, to Lothal.’
‘What about your war elephants, Panditji?’ asked Sati. ‘How will they reach Meluha?’
‘Our elephant corps will set out from Ujjain through the jungles, and meet us at Lothal,’ answered Gopal.
‘Gopalji, can the Narsimha temple pandit send out a message to Suparna in Panchavati as well?’ asked Shiva. ‘Kali has appointed her the commander of the Naga army in her absence. They should join us at the Narmada.’
‘I shall do that, Neelkanth,’ said Gopal.
An underground chamber beneath the royal palace had been converted into a temporary prison for General Parvateshwar. Though the public prisons of peaceful Kashi were humane, it would have been a slight to a man of Parvateshwar’s stature to be imprisoned along with common criminals. The spacious chamber, though luxuriously appointed, was windowless. Not taking any chances, Parvateshwar’s hands and legs had been securely shackled. While a platoon of crack Naga troops guarded the sole exit, two senior officers watched over Parvateshwar at all times. Nandi and Parshuram kept first watch.
‘My apologies, General,’ said Parshuram.
Parvateshwar smiled. ‘You don’t need to apologise, Parshuram. You are following orders. That is your duty.’
Nandi sat opposite Parvateshwar, but kept his face averted.
‘Are you angry with me, Major Nandi?’ asked Parvateshwar.
‘What right do I have to be angry with you, General?’
‘If there’s something about me that’s troubling you, then you have every right to be angry. Lord Ram had asked us to “always be true to ourselves”.’
Nandi remained silent.
Parvateshwar smiled ruefully and then looked away.
Nandi gathered the courage to speak. ‘Are you being true to yourself, General?’
‘Yes, I am.’
‘Forgive me, but you are not. You’re betraying your living God.’
With visible effort, Parvateshwar kept his temper in check. ‘It is only the very unfortunate who must choose between their god and their swadharma.’
‘Are you saying that your personal dharma is leading you away from Good?’
‘I’m saying no such thing, Major Nandi. But my duty towards Meluha is most important to me.’
‘Rebelling against your God is treason.’
‘Some may hold that rebelling against your country is a greater treason.’
‘I disagree. Of course, Meluha is important to me, I would readily die for it. But I wouldn’t fight my living God for the sake of Meluha. That would be completely wrong.’
‘I’m not saying that you’re wrong, Major Nandi.’
‘Then you admit to being wrong yourself.’
‘I didn’t say that either.’
‘How can that be, General?’ asked Nandi. ‘We’re talking about polar opposites. One of us has got to be wrong.’
Parvateshwar smiled. ‘It is such a staunch Suryavanshi belief: the opposite of truth has to be untruth.’
Nandi remained silent.
‘But Anandmayi has taught me something profound,’ said Parvateshwar. ‘There is your truth and there is my truth. As for the universal truth, it does not exist.’
‘The universal truth does exist, though it has always been an enigma to human beings,’ smiled Parshuram. ‘And it will continue to remain an enigma for as long as we are bound to this mortal body.’
Anandmayi stormed into Bhagirath’s chambers in the Kashi palace, brushing the guard aside.
‘What the hell have you done?’ she shouted.
Bhagirath immediately rose and walked towards his sister. ‘Anandmayi, we had no choice...’
‘Dammit! He is my husband! How dare you?’
‘Anandmayi, it is very likely he will share our plans with...’
‘Don’t you know Parvateshwar? Do you think he will ever do anything unethical? He used to walk away whenever you spoke about the Lord Neelkanth’s directives. He’s not aware of any of your “confidential” military plans!’
‘You’re right. I’m sorry.’
‘Then why is he under arrest?’
‘Anandmayi, it wasn’t my decision...’
‘That’s rubbish! Why is he under arrest?’
‘He might escape if...’
‘Do you think he couldn’t have escaped had he wanted to? He is waiting to meet the Lord Neelkanth. Only then will he leave for Meluha.’
‘That’s what he said but...’
‘But? What the hell do you mean “but”? Do you think Parvateshwar can lie? Do you think he is even capable of lying?’
‘If he has said that he will not leave till Lord Shiva returns, then believe me he’s not going anywhere!’
Bhagirath remained silent.
Anandmayi stepped up to her brother. ‘Are you planning to assassinate him?’
‘No, Anandmayi!’ cried a shocked Bhagirath. ‘How can you even think I would do such a thing?’
‘Don’t pull this injured act on me, Bhagirath. If anything were to happen to my husband, even an accident, you know that the Lord Neelkanth’s anger will be terrible. You and your allies may discount me, but you are scared of him. Remember his rage before you do something stupid.’
‘Anandmayi, we are not...’
‘The Lord Neelkanth will be back in a week. Until then, I’m going to keep a constant vigil outside the chamber where you have imprisoned him. If anyone wants to harm him, he will have to contend with me first.’
‘Anandmayi, nobody is going to...’
She turned and strode away stiffly, causing Bhagirath to trail off mid-sentence. She pushed aside the diminutive Kashi soldier standing in her path and slammed the door behind her even as the soldier fell.
Ayurvati placed a hand on Anandmayi’s shoulders. The Ayodhyan princess was sitting outside the chamber where Parvateshwar had been imprisoned. She had refused to move for the last few days.
‘Why don’t you go to your room and sleep,’ said Ayurvati. ‘I’ll sit here.’
A determined Anandmayi shook her head. Wild horses couldn’t drag her away.