Shiva smiled at her.
‘Is this your home? Kailash?’
Shiva nodded, never once taking his eyes off her.
‘We shall come here one day, my love. When it’s all over, we shall live together in your beautiful land.’
Shiva’s smile broadened.
‘Where are Ganesh and Kartik?’
Shiva didn’t answer.
‘Shiva, where are our sons?’
Suddenly, Shiva started ageing. His handsome face was rapidly overrun by wrinkles. His matted hair turned white almost instantaneously. His massive shoulders began to droop, his taut muscles dissolving before Sati’s very eyes.
Sati smiled. ‘Will we grow old together?’
Shiva’s eyes flew wide open. Like he was looking at something that did not make sense.
Sati looked down at her reflection in the waters. She frowned in surprise. She hadn’t aged a day. She still looked as young as always. She turned back towards her husband. ‘But I’ve stopped using the Somras. What does this mean?’
Shiva was horror-struck. Tears were flowing fiercely down his wrinkled cheeks as his face was twisted in agony. He reached out with his hand, screaming loudly. ‘SATI!’
Sati looked down. Her body was on fire.
‘SATI!’ he screamed once again, getting up and running towards the lake. ‘DON’T LEAVE ME!’
Still facing Shiva, Sati began to fly backwards, faster and faster, the wind fanning the flames on her body. But even through the blaze she could see her husband running desperately towards her.
Sati woke up with a start. The beautifully carved Kashi palace ceiling looked ethereal in the flickering torch-light. The only sound was that of the water trickling down the porous walls, cooling the hot dry breeze as it flowed in. Sati instinctively reached out to her left. Shiva wasn’t there.
Alarmed, she was up in a flash. ‘Shiva?’
She heard him call out from the balcony. ‘I’m here, Sati.’
Walking across, she could make out Shiva’s silhouette in the darkness as he leaned back in an easy chair, focussed on the Vishwanath temple in the distance. Nestling comfortably against him on the armrest, she reached out her hand and ran it lovingly through her husband’s locks.
It wasn’t a full moon night, but there was enough light for Shiva to clearly see his wife’s expression.
‘What’s the matter?’ asked Shiva.
Sati shook her head. ‘Nothing.’
‘Something’s wrong. You look disturbed.’
‘I had a strange dream.’
‘I dreamt that we were separated.’
Shiva smiled and pulled Sati close to him, embracing her. ‘You can dream all you want, but you’re never getting away from me.’
Sati laughed. ‘I don’t intend to.’
Shiva held his wife close, turning his gaze back to the Vishwanath temple.
‘What are you thinking?’ asked Sati.
‘I’m just thinking that marrying you was the best thing I ever did.’
Sati smiled. ‘I’m not going to disagree with that. But what specifically brought that up at this time?’
Shiva ran his hand along Sati’s face. ‘Because I know that for as long as you’re with me, you will always keep me centred on the right path.’
‘So, you’ve decided to do the right thing with...’
‘Yes, I have.’
Sati nodded in satisfaction. ‘We will win, Shiva.’
‘Yes, we will. But it has to be the right way.’
‘Absolutely,’ said Sati, and quoted Lord Ram. ‘There is no wrong way to do the right thing.’
A select assembly awaited the arrival of Parvateshwar, who was to be produced in the court of Kashi during the second prahar. The Kashi nobility was represented by Athithigva alone. Shiva sat impassively, his closest advisors around him in a semi-circle: Gopal, Sati, Kali, Ganesh and Kartik. Bhagirath and Ayurvati stood at a distance. Anandmayi was missing.
Shiva nodded towards Athithigva.
Athithigva called out loudly. ‘Bring the General in.’
Parshuram, Veerbhadra and Nandi escorted Parvateshwar into the hall. The Meluhan general was unchained, keeping in mind Shiva’s explicit orders. He glanced briefly at Sati before turning to look at Shiva. The Neelkanth’s rigid face was inscrutable. Parvateshwar expected to be put to death. He knew Shiva would not have wanted to do it, but the others would have convinced him of the necessity of getting rid of the general.
Parvateshwar also knew that regardless of what happened to him, he would treat the Neelkanth with the honour that the Lord deserved. The general clicked his heels together and brought his balled right fist up to his chest. And then, completing the Meluhan military salute, he bowed low towards the Neelkanth. He did not bother with anyone else.
‘Parvateshwar,’ said Shiva.
Parvateshwar immediately looked up.
‘I do not want to drag this on for too long,’ said Shiva. ‘Your rebellion has shocked me. But it has also reinforced my conviction that we are fighting Evil and it’ll not make things easy for us. It can lead even the best amongst us astray, if not through inducements then through dubious calls of honour.’
Parvateshwar continued to stare at Shiva, waiting for the sentence.
‘But when one fights against Evil, one has to fight with Good,’ said Shiva. ‘Not just on the side of Good, but with Good in one’s heart. Therefore, I have decided to allow you to leave.’
Parvateshwar couldn’t believe his ears.
‘Go now,’ said Shiva.
Parvateshwar was only half listening. This magnificent gesture from the Neelkanth had brought tears to his eyes.
‘But let me assure you,’ continued Shiva coldly, ‘the next time we meet, it will be on a battlefield. And that will be the day I will kill you.’
Parvateshwar bowed his head once again, his eyes clouded with tears. ‘That will also be the day of my liberation, My Lord.’
Shiva stayed stoic.
Parvateshwar looked up at Shiva. ‘But for as long as I live, My Lord, I shall fight to protect Meluha.’
‘Go!’ said Shiva.
Parvateshwar smiled at Sati. She brought her hands together in a polite but expressionless Namaste. Parvateshwar mouthed the word ‘Vijayibhav’ silently, blessing his god-daughter with victory.
As he turned around to leave, he saw Ayurvati and Bhagirath standing by the door. He walked up to them.
‘My apologies, Parvateshwar,’ said Bhagirath.
‘I understand,’ replied Parvateshwar, impassively.
Parvateshwar looked at Ayurvati.
Ayurvati just shook her head. ‘Do you realise that you are leaving one of the most magnificent men ever born?’
‘I do,’ said Parvateshwar. ‘But I will have the good fortune of dying at his hands.’
Ayurvati breathed deeply and patted Parvateshwar on his shoulder. ‘I will miss you, my friend.’
‘I will miss you too.’
Parvateshwar scanned the room quickly. ‘Where’s Anandmayi?’
‘She’s waiting for you at the port,’ said Bhagirath, ‘beside the ship that will take you away.’
Parvateshwar nodded. He looked back one last time at Shiva and then walked out.