the oath of the vayuputras - Page 96

Sati nodded. ‘The arrangements are precisely in keeping with the ancient laws.’

‘Thank you, My Lady,’ said the Meluhan.

‘Now the armoury,’ said Sati.

‘Of course, My Lady,’ said the Meluhan. ‘We can leave right away.’

As she stepped out of the conference hall, she saw her horse tethered outside. It had been unloaded from her ship and was saddled up and ready. The horses of her companions had been similarly saddled, girthed and groomed.

‘My Lady,’ said the Meluhan. ‘You do know that according to the laws, the animals will also need to be locked up next to the armoury. All your horses will be taken away.’

‘All except mine,’ said Sati. Very few were more well-versed with the laws of Lord Ram than her. The leader of the visitors was allowed to keep his or her horse. ‘My horse remains with me.’

‘Of course, My Lady.’

‘And the horses of my men will be returned as soon as the conference is over.’

‘That is the law, My Lady.’

‘And the animals within Devagiri would also be locked up.’

‘Of course, My Lady,’ said the Meluhan. ‘That has already been done.’

‘All right,’ said Sati. ‘Let’s go.’

The temporary armoury had been built outside the city walls under the connecting bridge between the Svarna and Tamra platforms, once again, to exact specifications. A massive door with a double lock had been built at the entryway, making it almost impossible to break into. One of the keys was handed over to Sati, who personally checked that the door was locked. The Meluhan protocol officer used his key to double-lock the door, allowed Sati to check it again, and then fixed a seal on top of the lock. All the weapons in Devagiri had been effectively put out of reach.

Sati handed over her key to Nandi. ‘Keep this carefully.’

Bowing and turning to leave, the officer hesitated, as if remembering something. ‘My Lady, your weapons? Aren’t they supposed to be locked in here as well?’

‘No,’ said Sati.

‘Umm, My Lady, but the rules state that...’

‘What the rules say, Major,’ interrupted Sati, ‘is that the armies have to be disarmed. But the personal bodyguards and the leaders at the peace conference are allowed to retain their weapons. I’m sure my father’s bodyguards have not been disarmed, have they?’

‘No, My Lady,’ replied the Meluhan protocol officer, ‘they still hold their weapons.’

‘As will my bodyguards,’ said Sati, pointing to Nandi and her other soldiers.

‘But, My Lady...’

‘Why don’t you check with Prime Minister Kanakhala? I’m sure she will know the law...’

The Meluhan protocol officer didn’t say anything further. He knew that Sati was legally correct. He also knew that Prime Minister Kanakhala could not be called upon for any clarifications. Meanwhile, Sati was looking at the giant animal enclosure a few hundred metres away. The horses of her men were being led in there for a temporary sequester.

‘Also, My Lady,’ said the protocol officer, ‘Emperor Daksha has made a request for your presence at his palace for lunch.’

Sati turned towards Nandi. ‘I’ll ride ahead. You check the lock on the animal enclosures and then join me in...’

‘My Lady,’ said the officer, interrupting Sati. ‘The instructions were very clear. He wanted you to come alone.’

Sati frowned. This was unorthodox. She was about to reject the suggestion when the officer spoke up again. ‘My Lady, I don’t think this has anything to do with the conference. You are His Highness’ daughter. A father has the right to expect that he can have a meal with his daughter.’

Sati took a deep breath. She was in no mood to break bread with her father. But she would dearly like to meet her mother. In any case, the conference was scheduled for the following day. There was nothing much to do today. ‘Nandi, once you have checked the enclosure, go back to the conference building and wait for me. I’ll be back soon.’

‘As you command, My Lady,’ said Nandi. ‘But may I have a word with you before you leave?’

‘Of course,’ said Sati.

‘In private, My Lady,’ said Nandi.

Sati frowned, but left the reins of her horse in the hands of a soldier standing discreetly at the back, and then walked aside.

When they were out of earshot, Nandi whispered, ‘If I may be so bold as to make a suggestion, My Lady, please don’t think you are going to meet your father. Think instead that you are going to meet the emperor with whom you will be negotiating. Please use this lunch as an opportunity to set the right atmosphere for the peace conference tomorrow.’

Sati smiled. ‘You are right, Nandi.’

Sati tied her horse at the stables near the palace steps, refusing the proffered assistance of the attendant. Owing to the peace conference, there were no animals in Devagiri so Sati’s was the only horse present. As she approached the main steps of her father’s palace, the guards in attendance executed a smart military salute. Sati saluted back politely and continued walking.

She had grown up in this palace, sauntered around its attached gardens, run up and down the steps a million times, practised the fine art of swordsmanship on its grounds. Yet, the building felt alien to her now. Maybe it was because she had been away for so many years. Or more likely, it was because she didn’t feel any kinship with her father anymore.

She knew her way around the palace and did not need the aid of the various soldiers who kept emerging to guide her onward. She was surprised though that she couldn’t recognise any of them. Perhaps Vidyunmali had changed the troops after taking over her father’s security. She waved the soldiers away repeatedly, walking unerringly towards her father’s chamber.

‘Her Highness, Princess Sati!’ announced the chief doorman loudly as one of his lieutenants opened the door to the royal chamber.

Sati walked in to find Daksha, Veerini and a man she didn’t recognise, who stood at the far end of the chamber. Judging by his arm band, he was a colonel in the Meluhan army.

As she turned towards her parents, the Meluhan colonel looked out of the window and imperceptibly nodded at someone standing outside.

‘By the great Lord Ram, what happened to your face?’ exclaimed Daksha.

Sati folded her hands together into a Namaste and bowed low, showing respect, as she must, to her father. ‘It’s nothing, father. Just a mark of war.’

‘A warrior bears her scars with pride,’ said the Meluhan colonel congenially, his hands held together in a respectful Namaste.

Sati looked at the Meluhan quizzically as she returned his Namaste. ‘I’m afraid I don’t know you, Colonel.’

‘I’ve been newly assigned, My Lady,’ said the Meluhan colonel. ‘I have served as second-in-command to Brigadier Vidyunmali. My name is Kamalaksh.’

Sati had never really liked Vidyunmali. But that was no reason to dislike Kamalaksh. She nodded politely at the Meluhan colonel, before turning to her mother with a warm smile. ‘How are you, maa?’

Sati had never addressed Veerini by the more affectionate ‘maa’. She’d always used the formal term ‘mother’. But Veerini liked this change. She walked up and embraced her daughter. ‘My child...’