‘Aren’t Raj gurus supposed to stay in the royal palace and guide the king?’
‘Not someone like Lord Bhrigu. He helped my father get elected as emperor because he believed my father would be good for Meluha. Beyond that Lord Bhrigu has had no interest in the day-to-day governance of Meluha. He is a simple man, rarely seen in the so-called powerful circles.’
‘So he spent a lot of time in Devagiri. That may have been unusual, but what about the other things that Brahaspati said?’
‘Well, Lord Bhrigu, my father and Brahaspatiji were indeed away for many months. It had been announced as an important trade trip; but I can’t imagine Lord Bhrigu or Brahaspatiji being interested in trade. Perhaps they were in Pariha at the time. And yes, the talented and lovely Taraji, who worked at Mount Mandar and had been sent to Pariha for a project, did disappear suddenly. It was announced that she had taken sanyas. Renouncing public life is very common in Meluha. But what Brahaspatiji revealed today was something else altogether.’
‘So you believe Brahaspati speaks the truth?’
‘All I’m saying is that Brahaspatiji may believe this to be the truth. But is it actually so or is he mistaken? This decision of yours can change the course of history. What you do now will have repercussions for generations to come. It is a momentous occasion, a big battle. You have to be completely sure.’
‘I must speak with the Vasudevs.’
‘Yes, you must.’
‘But that is not all you wanted to say to me, is it?’
‘I think there is another aspect to be considered. What made Brahaspatiji disappear for over five years? What was he doing in Panchavati all this while? I feel this is an important question; perhaps linked to the back-up manufacturing facility for the Somras that father had told me about.’
‘Yes, I didn’t give it much importance then. But if the Somras is Evil, that facility is the key.’
‘Actually, the Saraswati is the key. A manufacturing facility can always be rebuilt. But wherever it is built, it will always need the Saraswati waters. Kali told me at Icchawar that her people attacked Meluhan temples and Brahmins only if they were directly harming the Nagas. Maybe those temples were production centres that used the powder from Mount Mandar to manufacture the Somras drink for the locals. She also said that a final solution would emerge from the Saraswati. That the Nagas were working on it. I don’t know what that cryptic statement meant. We need to find out.’
‘You did not tell me about your conversation with Kali.’
‘Shiva, this is the first honest conversation we are having about Kali and Ganesh since you met my son at Kashi.’
Shiva became quiet.
‘I’m not blaming you,’ continued Sati. ‘I understood your anger. You thought that Ganesh had killed Brahaspatiji. Now that the truth has emerged, you are willing to listen.’
Shiva smiled and embraced Sati.
‘Are you sure?’ asked Shiva.
It was late the next morning, four hours into the second prahar. Shiva sat with Sati at his side in his private chambers. Parvateshwar and Bhagirath stood in front, holding a plank. The Meluhan general and the Ayodhyan prince had just returned after surveying the destroyed battleships.
‘Yes, My Lord. The evidence is indisputable,’ said Bhagirath.
Bhagirath stepped forward. ‘The rivets on these planks are clearly Meluhan. Lord Parvateshwar has identified them.’
Parvateshwar nodded in agreement.
‘And the casing,’ continued Bhagirath, ‘that improves the water-proofing is clearly Ayodhyan.’
‘Are you suggesting that Emperor Daksha and Emperor Dilipa have formed an alliance against us?’ Shiva asked softly.
‘They’ve used the best technologies available in both our lands. These ships had navigated through a lot of sea water, judging by the molluscs on them. They needed the best to be able to make the journey quickly.’
Shiva breathed deeply, lost in thought.
‘My Lord,’ said Bhagirath. ‘For all his faults, I cannot imagine my father would be capable of leading a conspiracy such as this. He simply does not have the capability. He is just a follower in this plot. You have to target him, of course. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that he is the main conspirator. He is not.’
Sati leaned towards Shiva. ‘Do you think my father can do this?’
Shiva shook his head. ‘No. Emperor Daksha too is incapable of leading this conspiracy.’
Parvateshwar, still shame-faced at the dishonour brought upon his empire, said quietly, ‘The Meluhan code enjoins upon us to follow the rules, My Lord. Our rules bid us to carry out our king’s orders. In the hands of a lesser king, this can lead to a lot of wrong.’
‘Emperor Daksha may have issued the orders, Parvateshwar,’ said Shiva. ‘But he didn’t dream them up. There is a master who has brought the royalty of Meluha and Swadweep together. Someone who also managed to procure the feared daivi astras. Heaven alone knows if he has any more divine weapons. It was a brilliant plan. By Lord Ram’s grace, we were saved by the skin of our teeth. It cannot be Emperor Daksha or Emperor Dilipa. This is someone of far greater importance, intelligence and resource. And, one who is clever enough to conceal his identity.’
‘Return to Meluha?!’ asked Veerbhadra.
Veerbhadra and Krittika were in Shiva’s private chambers. Kali and Sati were also present.
‘Yes, Bhadra,’ said Shiva. ‘It was the Meluhans and the Ayodhyans who attacked us together.’
‘Are you sure Meluha is involved?’ asked Veerbhadra.
‘Parvateshwar has himself confirmed it.’
‘And now you are worried about our people.’
‘Yes,’ said Shiva. ‘I’m worried the Gunas will be arrested and held hostage as leverage over us. Before they do so, I want you to slip into Meluha quietly and take our people to Kashi. I will meet you there.’
‘My scouts will guide Krittika and you through a secret route,’ said Kali. ‘Using our fastest horses and speediest boats, my people can get you close to Maika in two weeks. After that, you are on your own.’
‘Meluha is a safe country to travel in,’ said Krittika. ‘We can hire fast horses up to the mouth of the Saraswati. After that we can travel on boats plying on the river. It’s an easy route. With luck, we will reach Devagiri in another two weeks. The Gunas are in a small village not far from there.’
‘Perfect,’ said Shiva. ‘Time is of the essence. Go now.’
‘Yes Shiva,’ said Veerbhadra as he turned to leave with his wife.
‘And Bhadra...’ said Shiva.
Veerbhadra and Krittika turned around.
‘Don’t try to be brave,’ said Shiva. ‘If the Gunas have been arrested already, leave Meluha quickly and wait for me at Kashi.’
Veerbhadra’s mother was with the Gunas. Shiva knew Veerbhadra would not abandon her to her fate so easily.
‘Shiva...’ whispered Veerbhadra.
Shiva got up and held Veerbhadra’s shoulder. ‘Bhadra, promise me.’
Veerbhadra remained quiet.
‘If you try to release them by yourself, you will be killed. You will be of no use to your mother if you are dead, Bhadra.’