Sati shook her head. ‘That may take months. We don’t even know if he has succeeded in convincing the Vayuputras. What if he hasn’t? We would then be in a very weak position to negotiate a ban on the Somras. It’s a stalemate right now. Even the Meluhans know that. Who knows, we might be able to negotiate good terms at the conference.’
‘We could,’ said Chandraketu. ‘Or we might just march straight into a trap and have our entire army destroyed.’
Sati knew that this was a difficult decision. It couldn’t be made in a hurry.
‘I need to think about this some more,’ she said, ending the discussion.
Sati walked into the heavily guarded room. The visitor from Devagiri, who had carried Kanakhala’s message, had been detained in a comfortable section of the Lothal governor’s office. While the messenger had been treated well, the windows of his room had been boarded up and the doors kept locked at all times, as abundant caution. He had been blindfolded while being allowed into the city and was led straight to this room. His men had been made to wait outside the city. Sati did not want the peace envoy to take note of the defensive arrangements within the city.
‘Your Highness,’ said the Meluhan as he rose and saluted Sati. She was still the Princess of Meluha for him.
‘Brigadier Mayashrenik,’ said Sati with a formal Namaste. She had always thought well of the Arishtanemi brigadier.
Mayashrenik looked towards the door with a frown. ‘Isn’t the Neelkanth joining us?’
Bhrigu had decided against sharing intelligence with Daksha at Devagiri. It would only cause Daksha’s unwelcome interference in war strategies to continue, which Parvateshwar, being a disciplined Meluhan, would find difficult to constantly withstand. Therefore Mayashrenik, like every Meluhan in Devagiri, did not know what Parvateshwar in Karachapa suspected: that Shiva may have sailed up the Narmada and then marched on to Panchavati.
Sati, obviously, didn’t want to reveal to Mayashrenik that Shiva was not in Lothal. But she didn’t want to lie either. ‘No.’
‘When you speak with me,’ said Sati, interrupting him, ‘it’s as good as speaking with him.’
Mayashrenik frowned. ‘Is it that the Lord Neelkanth doesn’t want to meet me? Doesn’t he want peace? Does he think that destroying Meluha is the only way forward?’
‘Shiva does not think that Meluha is evil. Only the Somras is evil. And of course, he is very willing to sue for peace if Meluha meets just one simple demand: abandon the Somras.’
‘Then he must come for the peace conference.’
‘That’s where the problem lies. How can we believe that Kanakhala’s invitation is genuine?’
‘Your Highness,’ said a stunned Mayashrenik. ‘Surely you don’t think Meluha would lie about a peace conference. How can we? Lord Ram’s laws forbid it.’
‘Meluhans may always follow the law, Brigadier. My father doesn’t.’
‘Your Highness, the Emperor’s efforts are genuine.’
‘And why should I believe that?’
‘I’m sure your spies have already told you that Maharishi Bhrigu is in Karachapa.’
‘Maharishi Bhrigu is the one who doesn’t want any compromise, Your Highness. Your father wants peace. He has an opportunity for it while the Maharishi is away. You know that once your father signs a peace treaty, it will be very difficult for Maharishi Bhrigu to overrule it. Meluha recognises only the Emperor’s orders. Even now, while Maharishi Bhrigu may give the orders, they are all issued in the name of the Emperor.’
‘You want me to believe that my father has suddenly developed enough character to stand up for what he thinks is right?’
‘You are being unfair...’
‘Really? Don’t you know that he killed my first husband? He has no respect for the law.’
‘But he loves you.’
Sati rolled her eyes in disgust. ‘Please, Mayashrenik. Do you really expect me to believe that he’s pushing for peace because he loves me?’
‘He saved your life, Your Highness.’
‘What utter nonsense! Have you also fallen for that ridiculous explanation? Do you really believe that my father threw out my Naga child and kept him hidden from me for nearly ninety years so he could “save my life”? No, he didn’t. He did it because he wanted to protect his own name; he didn’t want people to know that Emperor Daksha has had a Naga grandchild. That is the reason why he broke the law.’
‘I’m not talking about what happened ninety years ago, Your Highness. I’m talking about what happened just a few years ago.’
‘How do you think the alarm went off at Panchavati?’
Sati remained silent, stunned by the revelation.
‘The timely triggering of that alarm saved your life.’
‘How do you know about that?’
‘Lord Bhrigu had sent the ships to destroy Panchavati. But your father sent me to sabotage that operation. I triggered the alarm that saved all of you. I did it on your father’s orders. He harmed his empire and his interests in order to protect you.’
Sati stared at Mayashrenik, gobsmacked. ‘I don’t believe you.’
‘It is the truth, Your Highness,’ said Mayashrenik. ‘You know I don’t lie.’
Sati took a deep breath and looked away.
‘Even if His Highness is thinking of peace only because of his love for you and not because of his duty towards Meluha, wouldn’t our country benefit all the same? Do we really want this war to continue till Meluha is destroyed?’
Sati held her counsel, as she turned towards Mayashrenik.
‘Please speak to the Neelkanth, My Lady. He listens to you. The peace offer is genuine.’
Sati didn’t say anything.
‘May I please have an audience with the Neelkanth, Your Highness?’ asked Mayashrenik, still unsure of whether Sati had committed herself to peace.
‘No, you may not,’ said Sati. ‘One of my guards will guide you to the city gates. Go back to Devagiri. I will give serious thought to what you have said.’
‘We should consider attending the peace conference,’ said Sati.
She was in conference with Bhagirath, Brahaspati, Chenardhwaj, Chandraketu and Maatali, at the governor’s residence.
‘That is not a wise idea, My Lady,’ said Bhagirath. ‘Only Lord Ram can know what traps they may have set for us.’
‘On the contrary, I think it may be very wise. Is there a good possibility that the army in Karachapa doesn’t know what my father is doing in Devagiri?’
‘It’s possible,’ said Brahaspati. ‘But do you actually think your father is driving the peace conference? Does he have the strength to push his way through?’
‘Perhaps it’s not him alone. Prime Minister Kanakhala is certainly involved, for one,’ said Sati. ‘The invitation is in her name.’
‘Kanakhala has influence over the Emperor, no doubt,’ agreed Chenardhwaj. ‘And she is certainly not a warmonger. Her instincts are usually towards peace. Also, she is a devoted follower of the Neelkanth.’
‘Does she have the capability to enforce the peace accord?’ asked Bhagirath.