the oath of the vayuputras - Page 92

Daksha suddenly stopped him as he noticed a shocked Kanakhala rooted at the entrance. Vidyunmali drew his sword.

Daksha raised his hand. ‘Vidyunmali! Calm down. Prime Minister Kanakhala knows where her loyalties lie.’

‘Your Highness...’ whispered Kanakhala, her eyes wide with terror.

‘Kanakhala,’ said Daksha with eerie calm, walking up and placing his hands on her shoulders. ‘Sometimes an Emperor has got to do what has to be done.’

‘But we cannot break Lord Ram’s laws,’ said Kanakhala, her breathing quickening with nervousness.

‘Lord Ram’s laws on a peace conference apply to a king, not to his prime minister,’ said Daksha.

‘But...’

‘No buts,’ said Daksha. ‘Remember your oath. This is war time. You have to do whatever your Emperor asks of you. If you reveal his secrets without his permission, the punishment is death.’

‘But, Your Highness... This is wrong.’

‘What will be wrong is for you, Kanakhala, to break your vow.’

‘Your Highness,’ said Vidyunmali. ‘This is too risky. I think the Prime Minister should be...’

Daksha interrupted Vidyunmali. ‘We’re doing no such thing, Vidyunmali. If we don’t have her here to organise the conference, Shiva’s men will get suspicious the moment they arrive. It is, after all, the “Conference of Kanakhala”.’

Kanakhala was speechless with horror.

‘You have been loyal to me for decades, Kanakhala,’ said Daksha. ‘Remember your vows and you will live. You can continue to be prime minister. But if you break them, not only will you be given the death sentence, you will also be damned by the Parmatma.’

Kanakhala couldn’t utter a word. She knew that the prime ministerial oath also said that if she betrayed her liege, no funeral ceremonies would be conducted for her. According to ancient superstitions, this was a fate worse than death. Without funeral rituals, her soul would not be able to cross the mythical Vaitarni River to Pitralok, the land of one’s ancestors. The onward journey of her soul, either towards liberation or to return to earth in another body, would be interrupted. She would exist in the land of the living as a Pishach, a ghost.

‘Remember your vows and do your duty,’ said Daksha. ‘Focus on the conference.’

Kanakhala stood quietly on the terrace outside her home-office. She loved the sound of trickling water from the small fountain in the centre of the chamber. This sound was wafting gently towards her, all the way to the open balcony. It kept her mind focused and calm. She looked up; the sun was already on its way down.

She took a deep breath and looked towards the street. The soldiers weren’t even trying to hide. Kanakhala did not feel any anger towards the men who kept watch outside her house. They were good soldiers. They were simply following orders given to them by their commander.

Kanakhala knew it was pointless to try and send a message to Lothal and warn the Neelkanth. She was sure Vidyunmali would have positioned expert archers along the route to bring down any bird courier. Furthermore, it was very possible that the Neelkanth’s convoy had already left Lothal. Her only recourse was Parvateshwar. If Lord Bhrigu and he managed to reach Devagiri in time, this travesty that her Emperor and Brigadier Vidyunmali were planning could be stopped. But getting a message to Karachapa wouldn’t be easy.

Kanakhala looked at the small message in her hand. She had personally addressed it to the Neelkanth. She rolled the message tightly and slipped it into a small canister attached to a pigeon’s leg. She shut the canister, closed her eyes and whispered, ‘Forgive me, noble bird. Your sacrifice will aid a greater cause. Om Brahmaye Namah.’

Then she threw the bird into the air.

She could immediately sense the soldiers below go into a tizzy. She saw an archer emerging from the rooftop of a building some distance away. He quickly loaded an arrow on to his bow and shot at the pigeon, hitting the bird unerringly. The stricken pigeon dropped like a stone, with the arrow pierced through its body. The soldiers quickly scattered to find the pigeon. The message would be taken to Vidyunmali instantly. It would appear genuine since it was in Kanakhala’s handwriting and had been addressed to the Neelkanth.

Kanakhala looked towards the street once again. From the corner of her eye, she saw her servant slip quietly out of the side door, using the temporary distraction of the soldiers with the fallen bird. The servant would release a pigeon outside the city walls, a homing bird set for Karachapa. Kanakhala hoped Bhrigu and Parvateshwar would be able to arrive in Devagiri in time to stop this madness; to prevent this subversion of Lord Ram’s laws. Subsequently, the servant had been instructed to ride hard southwards, towards Lothal, and attempt to stop the Neelkanth and his peace negotiators from walking into a trap. Kanakhala had done all that she possibly could.

The Prime Minister sighed. She had broken her vow of loyalty to the Emperor, but she sought solace from an ancient scriptural verse: Dharma matih udgritah; dharma is that which is well judged by your mind; think deeply about dharma and your mind will tell you what is right.

In this case, it appeared to Kanakhala that breaking her vows was the right thing to do. For that was the only way to stop an even bigger crime from being committed. But she was no fool. She knew her punishment. She would not give Daksha that pleasure, though.

Kanakhala smiled sadly and walked back into her office. She stopped at her writing desk and picked up a bowl, which contained a clear, greenish medicine that had been prepared recently. She swallowed it quickly. It would numb her pain and make her feel drowsy; exactly what she needed. She ambled up to the fountain. The small pool at the base of the fountain was perfect; deep enough to keep her hand submerged. Clotting would be arrested if the wound was continually washed by flowing water.

She picked up the sharp ceremonial knife that she carried on her person. For one brief moment, she wondered whether she would roam the earth forever as a ghost, if her funeral ceremony was not conducted in accordance with the prescribed rituals. Then she shook her head and dismissed her fears.

Dharmo rakshati rakshitaha; dharma protects those who protect it.

She shut her eyes, balled her left hand into a fist and submerged it in the water. She then took a deep breath and whispered softly, ‘Jai Shri Ram.’

In a swift move, she slashed deep, slicing through the veins and arteries on her wrist. Blood burst out in a rapid flood. She rested her head on the side of the fountain and waited for death to take her away.

‘It doesn’t change the plans at all, Your Highness,’ said Vidyunmali.

A stunned Daksha was sitting in his private office, having just received word of Kanakhala’s suicide.

‘Your Highness,’ said Vidyunmali, when he didn’t get a response.

‘Yes...’ said Daksha, still reeling from shock, looking distracted.

‘Listen to me,’ said Vidyunmali. ‘We will go ahead with the plans as before. Swuth’s men are ready.’

‘Yes...’

‘Your Highness!’ said Vidyunmali loudly.

Daksha’s face suddenly showed some focus as he stared at Vidyunmali.

‘Did you hear me, Your Highness?’ asked Vidyunmali.

‘Yes.’

‘Everyone will be told that Kanakhala died in an accident. The peace conference will continue in her memory.’