the oath of the vayuputras - Page 43

‘Anandmayi...’

‘They aren’t even letting me meet him, Ayurvati,’ sobbed Anandmayi.

Ayurvati sat down next to Anandmayi. ‘I know...’

Anandmayi turned towards the Naga soldiers standing guard at the door. ‘MY HUSBAND IS NO CRIMINAL!’

Ayurvati took Anandmayi’s hand in hers. ‘Calm down... These soldiers are only following orders...’

‘He’s no criminal... He’s a good man...’

‘I know...’

Anandmayi rested her head on Ayurvati’s shoulders and began to cry.

‘Calm down,’ said Ayurvati soothingly.

Anandmayi raised her head and looked at Ayurvati. ‘I don’t care if the entire world turns against him. I don’t even care if the Neelkanth turns against him. I will stand by my husband. He is a good man... a good man!’

‘Have faith in the Neelkanth. Have faith in his justice. Speak to him the moment he arrives in Kashi.’

The sun was directly overhead as Shiva’s ship prepared to dock at Assi Ghat. Shiva, Sati and Gopal were at the balustrade.

‘I do not understand why King Athithigva has to organise a grand reception every time I come here,’ said Shiva as he looked at the giant canopy and vast throngs of people waiting.

Gopal smiled. ‘I don’t think Lord Athithigva orders his people to assemble, my friend. The people gather of their own accord to welcome their Neelkanth.’

‘Yes, but it is so unnecessary,’ said Shiva. ‘They shouldn’t be taking a break from their work to welcome me. If they really do want to honour me, they should work even harder at their jobs.’

Gopal laughed. ‘People have a tendency to do what they want to do rather than what they should be doing.’

The ship was now close enough for them to see the expressions of the people on the dock, even the nobility standing farther away on higher ground.

‘Something is not right,’ said Sati.

‘Why is everyone looking troubled?’ asked Gopal.

Shiva studied the crowds carefully. ‘You’re right. Something’s wrong.’

‘King Athithigva seems disturbed,’ said Sati.

‘Kali, Ganesh, Kartik and Bhagirath are in a heated discussion,’ said Shiva. ‘What’s troubling them so much?’

Sati tapped Shiva lightly. ‘Look at Anandmayi.’

‘Where?’ asked Shiva, not finding her in the area cordoned off for the nobility.

‘She’s in the crowd,’ said Sati, gesturing with her eyes. ‘Right where the ship’s gangplank will land.’

‘Perhaps she wants to talk to you the moment you step off, my friend,’ said Gopal.

‘She looks deeply agitated, Shiva,’ said Sati.

Shiva scanned the entire port area. And he softly asked, ‘Where’s Parvateshwar?’

The guards stepped aside as the Neelkanth stormed into the temporary prison. Sati, Gopal, Anandmayi and Kali could hardly keep pace.

He encountered Veerbhadra, Parshuram and Nandi in deep conversation with a fettered Parvateshwar.

‘What the hell is the meaning of this?’ shouted a livid Shiva.

‘My Lord,’ said Parvateshwar as he rose, the chains clinking.

Nandi, Veerbhadra and Parshuram rose too.

‘Remove his chains!’

‘Shiva,’ said Kali softly, ‘I don’t think that is wise...’

‘Remove his chains now!’

Nandi and Parshuram immediately set to work. The chains were removed with great haste. Parvateshwar rubbed his wrists, helping the blood flow freely.

‘Leave me alone with Parvateshwar.’

‘Shiva...’ said Veerbhadra.

‘Have I not made myself clear, Bhadra? Everybody leave right now!’

Kali shook her head disapprovingly, but obeyed. The others stepped out without any sign of protest.

Shiva turned to Parvateshwar, his eyes blazing with fury.

Parvateshwar was the first to speak. ‘My Lord...’

Shiva raised his hand, signalling for him to keep quiet. Parvateshwar obeyed immediately. Shiva looked away as he walked back and forth, breathing deeply to calm his mind. He remembered his uncle Manobhu’s words.

Anger is your enemy. Control it. Control it.

Much as he tried, Shiva could feel the fury welling up within him like a coiled snake waiting to strike. But his mind also told him that the issue at hand was far too important to allow anger to cloud his judgement.

Once he had breathed some calm into his mind and heart, Shiva turned to Parvateshwar. ‘Tell me this is not true. Just say it and I will believe you, regardless of what anyone else says.’

‘My Lord, this is the most difficult decision I have ever had to make in my life.’

‘Do you intend to fight me, Parvateshwar?’

‘No, My Lord. But I’m duty-bound to protect Meluha. I hope some miracle ensures that you and Meluha are not on opposite sides.’

‘Miracle? Miracle? Are you a child, Parvateshwar? Do you think it is possible for me to compromise with Meluha where the Somras is concerned?’

‘No, My Lord.’

‘Do you think that the Somras is not evil?’

‘No, My Lord. The Somras is evil. I have stopped using it from the moment you said that it was evil.’

‘Then why would you fight to protect the Somras?’

‘I will only fight to protect Meluha.’

‘But they are on the same side!’

‘That is my misfortune, My Lord.’

‘You stubborn...’

Shiva checked himself in time. Parvateshwar remained silent. He knew the Neelkanth’s anger was justified.

‘Is Bhrigu forcing you to do this? Has he captured somebody who is important to you? We can take care of that. No one important to you will get hurt as long as I am alive.’

‘Maharishi Bhrigu is not forcing me in any way, My Lord.’

‘Then who in Lord Rudra’s name is making you do this?’

‘My soul. I have no choice. This is what I must do.’

‘That does not make any sense, Parvateshwar. Do you actually believe that your soul is forcing you to fight for Evil?’

‘My soul is only making me fight for my motherland, My Lord. This is a call that I cannot refuse. It is my purpose.’

‘Your soul is taking you down a dangerous path, Parvateshwar.’

‘Then so be it. No danger should distract one from walking one’s path.’

‘What nonsense is this? Do you think Bhrigu cares about you? All he cares for is the Somras. Trust me, once your purpose is served, you will be killed.’

‘All of us will die when we have served our purpose. That is the way of the universe.’

Shiva covered his face with his hands in sheer frustration.

‘I know you are angry, My Lord,’ said Parvateshwar. ‘But your purpose is to fight Evil. And you must do all that you can to accomplish it.’

Shiva continued to stare at Parvateshwar silently.

‘All I am asking is for you to understand that just like you have to serve your purpose, I must serve mine. Your soul will not allow you to rest till you have destroyed Evil. My soul will not allow me to rest till I have done all that I can to protect Meluha.’

Shiva ran his hands over his face, trying desperately to maintain his calm. ‘Do you think I am wrong, Parvateshwar?’