‘How did you...’
‘With due respect, don’t ask superfluous questions, Lord Gopal. What Lord Shiva and you need is obvious. We have to devise the best way for you to get it. If you ask for the Brahmastra so that you can fight Evil, then you will open yourself to questions as to Lord Shiva’s legitimacy in deciding what Evil is, for we all know that he has not been authorised or trained by the Vayuputras. Instead, seek redress for a crime committed on Indian soil by a person who the Vayuputras have supported in the past. And what crime was that? The unauthorised use of daivi astras.’
‘Lord Bhrigu...’ said Gopal, remembering the great maharishi’s use of the divine weapons in Panchavati.
‘Exactly. The laws of Lord Rudra make it clear that for the first unauthorised use of daivi astras, the punishment is a fourteen-year exile into the forests. A second unauthorised use is punishable by death. Many in the council agree that Lord Bhrigu has got away lightly, despite having used daivi astras.’
‘So the Vasudevs are to present themselves as the ones enforcing the justice of Lord Rudra?’
‘Exactly. It is impossible for a Vayuputra to say no to this. You should state that the law on the daivi astra ban was broken and those who did this – Lord Bhrigu, the Emperor of Meluha and the King of Ayodhya – need to be punished. And, the Vasudevs have decided to mete out justice.’
‘And we can tell the Vayuputras,’ said Shiva, completing Scheherazade’s thought, ‘that they may well have more reserves of daivi astras. So we need the Brahmastra to encourage them to do the right thing.’
Scheherazade smiled. ‘Use the laws to achieve your objective. Once you have the Brahmastra, use it to threaten the Meluhans. Evil must be stopped. But I’ve been asked to tell you that you shouldn’t...’
‘We will never use the Brahmastra,’ said Gopal, interrupting Scheherazade.
‘It’s not just about the laws of Lord Rudra,’ added Shiva. ‘Using a weapon of such horrifying power goes against the laws of humanity.’
Scheherazade nodded. ‘When you meet the council, insist on speaking with Lord Mithra in private. Tell them it is a matter of the daivi astra law being broken. Say that the Vasudevs cannot allow those who broke Lord Rudra’s law to go unpunished. That will be enough. It will then be a private conversation between Lord Mithra and the two of you. You will get what you want.’
Shiva smiled as he understood who amongst the Vayuputras was helping him. But he was still intrigued by Scheherazade, or whatever her real name was.
‘Why are you helping us?’ asked Shiva.
‘Because I’ve been told to do so.’
‘I don’t believe that. Something else is driving you. Why are you helping us?’
Scheherazade smiled sadly and looked at the carpet. Then she turned towards the balcony, staring into the dark night beyond. She wiped a tear from the corner of her eye and turned back towards Shiva. ‘Because there was a man whom I had loved once, who had told me that the Somras was turning evil. And I didn’t believe him at the time.’
‘Who is this man?’ asked Gopal.
‘It doesn’t matter anymore,’ said Scheherazade. ‘He is dead. He was killed, perhaps by those who’d wanted to stop him. Ending the reign of the Somras is my way of apologising...’
Shiva leaned towards her, looked straight into Scheherazade’s eyes and whispered, ‘Tara?’
A stunned Scheherazade pulled back. Nobody had called her by that name in years. Shiva continued to observe her eyes.
‘By the Holy Lake,’ he whispered. ‘It is you.’
Scheherazade did not say anything. Her relationship with Brahaspati had been kept a secret. Many amongst the Parihans believed that the Somras was still a force for Good, and that the former chief scientist of Meluha was deeply biased and misguided about it. Tara would have preferred not having to live in Pariha as Scheherazade. But her presence here had served a purpose for her guru, Lord Bhrigu. Believing Brahaspati was dead, she had found no reason to return to her homeland.
‘But you are Lord Bhrigu’s student,’ said Shiva. ‘Why are you going against him?’
‘I’m not Tara.’
‘I know you are,’ said Shiva. ‘Why are you going against your guru? Do you believe that it was Lord Bhrigu who got Brahaspati killed at Mount Mandar?’
Scheherazade stood up and turned to leave. Shiva rose quickly, stretched out and held her hand. ‘Brahaspati is not dead.’
A dumbstruck Scheherazade stopped dead in her tracks.
‘Brahaspati is alive,’ said Shiva. ‘He is with me.’
Tears poured from Scheherazade’s eyes. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
Shiva stepped forward and repeated gently. ‘He is with me. Your Brahaspati is alive.’
Scheherazade kept crying, tears of confused happiness flowing down her cheeks.
Shiva gently held her hand in his own. ‘Tara, you will come back with us when we’re done here. I’ll take you back. I’ll take you back to your Brahaspati.’
Scheherazade collapsed into Shiva’s arms, inconsolable in her tears. She would be Tara once again.
The Friend of God
The strategy that Tara had suggested worked like a charm. The Amartya Shpand was genuinely taken by surprise when Gopal entered their audience chamber without Shiva. When he raised the issue of Maharishi Bhrigu’s misuse of the daivi astras, they knew that they had been cornered. They had no choice but to grant Gopal an audience with the Mithra. That was the law.
The following day, Shiva and Gopal were led into the official audience hall and residence of the Mithra. It had been built at one end of the city, the last building abutting the Mountain of Mercy. Unlike the rest of Pariha, this structure was incredibly modest. It had a simple base made of stone, which covered the water channel that emerged from the mountain. On it were constructed austere pillars, which supported a wooden roof four metres high. On entry, one immediately stepped into a simple audience hall furnished with basic chairs and sombre carpets. The Mithra’s personal quarters lay farther inside, separated by stone walls and a wooden door. Shiva could sense that this was almost a stone replica of a large ceremonial tent, the wooden tent-poles having been converted to stone pillars and the cloth canopy into a wooden roof. In a way, this was a link to the nomadic past of Lord Rudra’s people, when everybody lived in simple, easily-built tents that could be dismantled and moved at short notice. Like a tribal leader of the old code, the Mithra lived in penurious simplicity while his people lived in luxury. The only indulgence that the Mithra had allowed himself was the beautiful garden that surrounded his abode. It was bountiful in its design, precise in its symmetry and extravagant in its colourful flora.
Shiva and Gopal were left alone in the audience hall, and the doors were shut. Within a few moments, the Mithra entered.
Shiva and Gopal immediately stood up. They greeted the Mithra with the ancient Parihan salute: the left hand was placed on the heart, fist open, as a mark of admiration. The right arm was held rigidly to the side of the body, bent upwards at the elbow. The open palm of the right hand faced outwards, as a form of greeting. The Mithra smiled genially and folded his hands together into the traditional Indian Namaste.
Shiva grinned, but remained silent, waiting for the Mithra to speak.