The harbour master came up to him just as Parvateshwar reached the Assi Ghat. ‘General, your ship is berthed in that direction.’
He began walking in the direction indicated. Parvateshwar saw Anandmayi by the gangplank of a small vessel, obviously a merchant ship.
‘Did you know that I would be allowed to leave honourably?’ asked a smiling Parvateshwar as soon he reached her.
‘When they told me this morning to arrange a ship to sail up the Ganga,’ said Anandmayi, ‘I could surmise it was not to carry your corpse all the way to Meluha and display it to the Suryavanshis.’
‘Also, I never lost faith in the Neelkanth,’ said Anandmayi.
‘Yes,’ said Parvateshwar. ‘He’s the finest man born since Lord Ram.’
Anandmayi looked at the ship. ‘It’s not much, I admit. It will not be comfortable, but it’s quick.’
Parvateshwar suddenly stepped forward and embraced Anandmayi. It took a surprised Anandmayi a moment to respond. Parvateshwar was not a man given to public displays of affection. She knew that it was deeply uncomfortable for him so she never tried to embrace him in public.
Anandmayi smiled warmly and caressed his back. ‘It’s all over now.’
Parvateshwar pulled back a little, but kept his arms around his wife. ‘I will miss you.’
‘Miss me?’ asked Anandmayi.
‘You have been the best thing that ever happened to me,’ said an emotional Parvateshwar, tears in his eyes.
Anandmayi raised her eyebrows and laughed. ‘And I will continue to happen to you. Let’s go.’
‘You’re coming to Meluha?’
Parvateshwar stepped back. ‘Anandmayi, the path ahead is dangerous. I honestly don’t think that Meluha can win.’
‘I cannot permit you to put your life in danger.’
‘Did I seek your permission?’
‘Anandmayi, you cannot...’
Parvateshwar stopped speaking as Anandmayi held his hand, turned around and started walking up the gangplank. Parvateshwar followed quietly with a smile on his face and tears in his eyes.
Proclamation of the Blue Lord
‘I have a brilliant plan,’ said Daksha.
Daksha and Veerini were dining at the royal palace in Devagiri. A wary Veerini put the morsel of roti and vegetables back on her plate. She stole a quick glance towards the attendants standing guard at the door.
‘What plan?’ asked Veerini.
‘Believe me,’ said an excited Daksha. ‘If we can implement it, the war will be over even before it has begun.’
‘But, Lord Bhrigu...’
‘Even Lord Bhrigu would be impressed. We will be rid of the Neelkanth problem once and for all.’
‘Wasn’t it the Neelkanth opportunity some years ago?’ asked a sarcastic Veerini.
‘Don’t you understand what is happening?’ asked an irritated Daksha. ‘Do I have to explain everything to you? War is about to break out. Our soldiers are training continuously.’
‘Yes, I’m aware of that. But I think we should keep out of this and leave the matter entirely to Lord Bhrigu.’
‘Why? Lord Bhrigu is not the Emperor of India. I am.’
‘Have you told Lord Bhrigu that?’
‘Don’t irritate me, Veerini. If you’re not interested in what I have to say, just say so.’
‘I’m sorry. But I think it’s better to leave all the decision-making to Lord Bhrigu. All we should be concerned about is our family.’
‘There you go again!’ said Daksha, raising his voice. ‘Family! Family! Family! Don’t you care about how the world will see me? How history will judge me?’
‘Even the greatest of men cannot dictate how posterity will judge them.’
Daksha pushed his plate away, shouting, ‘You are the source of all my problems! It is because of you that I haven’t been able to achieve all that I could have!’
Veerini looked at the attendants and turned back towards her husband. ‘Keep your voice down, Daksha. Don’t make a mockery of our marriage.’
‘Ha! This marriage has been a mockery from the very the beginning! Had I a more supportive wife, I would have conquered the world by now!’
Daksha got up angrily and stormed out.
‘This is a huge mistake,’ said Kali. ‘In his obsession for the right way, your father may end up losing the war.’
Ganesh and Kartik were in her chamber in the Kashi palace.
‘I disagree, mausi,’ said Kartik. ‘I think baba did the right thing. We have to win, but we must do it the right way.’
‘I thought you were in agreement with us,’ said a frowning Kali.
‘I was. But maa’s words convinced me otherwise.’
‘In any case, mausi,’ said Ganesh. ‘It has happened. Let us not fret over it. We should focus on the war instead.’
‘Do we have a choice?’ asked Kali.
‘Baba told me that I will lead the war effort in Ayodhya,’ said Ganesh. ‘Kartik, you will be with me.’
‘We’ll destroy them, dada,’ said Kartik, raising his clenched right fist.
‘That we will,’ said Ganesh. ‘Mausi, are you sure about Lothal and Maika?’
‘I’ve already asked Suparna to send ambassadors to Governor Chenardhwaj,’ said Kali. ‘Trust me, he is a friend.’
Kartik bent and touched his mother’s feet.
‘Vijayibhav, my child,’ said Sati, as she applied the red tilak on Kartik’s forehead for good luck and victory.
Sati, Ganesh and Kartik were in the Neelkanth’s chamber. Ganesh, whose forehead already wore the tilak, looked at his brother with pride. Kartik was still a child, but was already universally respected as a fearsome warrior. The two sons of Shiva were to set sail down the Ganga and meet their allies in Vaishali. From there, they were to turn back, sail up the Sarayu and attack Ayodhya. Ganesh turned towards his father and touched his feet.
Shiva smiled as he pulled Ganesh up into an embrace. ‘My blessings are not as potent as those that emerge from your mother’s heart. But I know that you will make me proud.’
‘I’ll try my best, baba,’ smiled Ganesh.
Kartik turned and touched Shiva’s feet.
Shiva embraced his younger son. ‘Give them hell, Kartik!’
Kartik grinned. ‘I will, baba!’
‘You should smile more often, Kartik,’ said Sati. ‘You look more handsome when you do.’
Kartik smiled broadly. ‘The next time we meet, I will certainly be grinning from ear to ear. For our army would have defeated Ayodhya by then!’
Shiva patted Kartik on his back before turning to Ganesh. ‘If Ayodhya is willing to break ranks with Meluha after my proclamation is made public, then I would rather we don’t attack them.’
‘I understand, baba,’ said Ganesh. ‘This is why I’m taking Bhagirath along with me. His father may hate the Ayodhyan prince, but Bhagirath still has access to many members of the nobility. I’m hoping he’ll be able to convince them.’