the oath of the vayuputras - Page 93

‘Yes.’

‘Also, I have to go.’

‘What?’ Daksha seemed to panic.

‘I told you, Your Highness,’ said Vidyunmali patiently, as if he was talking to a child. ‘One of Kanakhala’s servants is missing. I fear he may have set out to warn the fraud Neelkanth. He has to be stopped. I’m going to ride out myself, towards the south, with a platoon.’

‘But how will I manage all this?’

‘You don’t have to do anything. Everything is under control. My soldiers will find a way to bring Princess Sati into the palace. Nobody else from her party will be allowed to accompany her. The moment she is with you, signal my man who will wait at your window. He will shoot a fire arrow high in the air, which will signal to Swuth’s assassins that the coast is clear. They will then quickly move in and kill the fraud Neelkanth. They will also leave a few of Shiva’s people alive so that they can testify that they were attacked by Nagas.’

Daksha still looked nervous.

Vidyunmali stepped up and spoke gently. ‘You don’t have to worry. I have planned everything in detail. There will be no mistakes made. All you have to do is signal my man when Princess Sati enters your room. That’s it.’

‘That’s it?’

‘Yes, that’s it. Now I really need to go, Your Highness. If Kanakhala’s man manages to reach the fraud Neelkanth, it will be the end of our plans.’

‘Of course. Go.’

‘Those sons of bitches!’ scowled Kali.

Jadav Rana, the ruler of Umbergaon had just rowed up to the Naga fleet in a fast cutter. His small kingdom lay to the south of the Narmada. The Nagas had helped him on many occasions. And, Jadav Rana was not an ungrateful man.

When the fishermen in his kingdom informed him of a large Meluhan fleet stationed in a hidden lagoon nearby, he had gone personally to investigate. Keeping himself concealed, Jadav had seen the massive fleet and immediately surmised that this had something to do with the war raging in the north between the Neelkanth’s forces and the Meluhans. He had also received news that the Nagas themselves were racing down the western coast, towards the mouth of the Narmada. He’d immediately got into a fast cutter to intercept the Nagas before they entered the river that marked the southern boundary of the Sapt Sindhu. He was convinced the Meluhans intended to take the Nagas by surprise and attack them from the rear.

‘Your Highness,’ said Jadav Rana. ‘I assumed the Meluhans would enter the Narmada after you and assault your rear guard. They could devastate your entire fleet before you even realised what had happened.’

‘I wouldn’t be surprised if they have a forward ambush planned for us as well,’ said Kartik.

‘We’ll attack them in their hidden lagoon,’ said Kali. ‘We’ll burn their ships down and hang their rotten carcasses on the coastal trees.’

Ganesh had remained silent till now. Something was amiss. ‘Your Highness, how many Meluhans are there?’

‘Fifty ships, Lord Ganesh,’ said Jadav Rana. ‘It’s a reasonably large force. But you have more than enough ships to take them on.’

‘I didn’t ask you about the ships, Your Highness,’ said Ganesh. ‘I asked how many men...’

Jadav Rana frowned. ‘I don’t know, Lord Ganesh.’ He then turned to his men. ‘Do you people have any idea?’

‘It’s difficult to be sure, My Lord, since they have largely remained on ship,’ said one of Jadav Rana’s lieutenants. ‘But judging by the amount of food they have been foraging, I don’t think there would be more than five thousand. You have many more men, Lord Ganesh. You can win very easily.’

Ganesh held his head. ‘Bhoomidevi, be merciful.’

A stunned Kali stared at Jadav Rana’s lieutenant. ‘Are you sure? Just five thousand?’

Jadav Rana was surprised. He didn’t understand why the Nagas looked so upset. Logically, they should have been happy. They outnumbered the Meluhans dramatically.

‘My men are well acquainted with these coasts, Your Highness,’ said Jadav Rana. ‘If they’re saying that the Meluhans number only five thousand, I would go with that number.’

‘We’ve been taken for a ride,’ said Ganesh. ‘There’s no attack planned on Panchavati. They were trying to divide our forces. And they succeeded.’

A worried Kartik looked at his elder brother. ‘They’re probably attacking Lothal even as we speak.’

‘And we took a hundred thousand men away from maa,’ said a distraught Ganesh.

Kali turned and yelled the order at her prime minister, Karkotak. ‘Turn around, now! We’re going back to Lothal! Double rowing till we get there! MOVE!’

Chapter 43

A Civil Revolt

Bhagirath and Brahaspati had come to the Lothal port, having been informed by an advance boat that Shiva’s ship would be arriving soon. They could now see Shiva’s merchant ship sailing in from the east, from the vantage position of the port walls. To the south, they could also see the naval contingent that had left under Kali’s command, steaming forward. All the ships would probably dock at Lothal at the same time.

Brahaspati took a sharp intake of breath as he saw a woman on the foredeck of Shiva’s ship.

Bhagirath couldn’t help notice the dramatic transformation in Brahaspati. He turned towards Shiva’s ship. They were still quite far, but he could make out the countenance of Shiva and Gopal. Standing next to them was a woman, an Indian-looking woman. But the Ayodhyan prince didn’t have the foggiest clue about her identity.

‘Who is she, Brahaspatiji?’ asked Bhagirath.

Brahaspati was crying. ‘Oh Lord Brahma! Oh Lord Brahma!’

‘Who is she?’

Brahaspati seemed to be delirious now. Delirious but happy! He turned around, rushing down the steps towards the docks. He was rambling in pure delight. ‘They let her go! Shiva freed her! Lord Ram be praised, he freed her!’

‘Isn’t that Shiva’s ship?’ said Kali, pointing ahead.

Kali, Ganesh and Kartik had rushed back to Lothal and were surprised to discover that there was no siege on the city at all. They saw the merchant ship just ahead, pulling into the circular port. Fifteen minutes later Kali’s ship docked at a berth as well. Shiva’s ship was anchored just ahead of theirs. As soon as they got off the gangway plank, they rushed towards Shiva. They could see that Bhagirath and Brahaspati had come to receive the Neelkanth and Gopal. A stunned Brahaspati had just embraced a woman. Both of them were crying profusely.

‘Shiva!’ shouted Kali from a distance, sprinting towards him.

Shiva turned and smiled at Kali. ‘I saw the Naga ships behind us. Where had you gone?’

‘We were led on a wild goose chase,’ said Kali. ‘We were led to believe that Panchavati was under attack.’

‘The Meluhan ships were a decoy?’ asked Bhagirath.

‘Yes, Prince Bhagirath,’ said Kartik. ‘The ships had only five thousand men. They had no intention of attacking Panchavati.’

‘That is good news,’ said Bhagirath.

‘Where’s Sati?’ asked Shiva, looking around.

‘There’s some good news regarding her as well,’ said Bhagirath.