The Oath of the Vayuputras (Shiva Trilogy #3)


by Amish Tripathi

Chapter 1

The Return of a Friend

Before the Beginning

Blood dribbled into the water, creating unhurried ripples which expanded slowly to the edges of the cistern. Shiva bent over the container as he watched the rippling water distort his reflection. He dipped his hands in the water and splashed some on his face, washing off the blood and gore. Recently appointed Chief of the Gunas, he was in a mountain village far from the comforts of the Mansarovar Lake. It had taken his tribe three weeks to get there despite the punishing pace he had set. The cold was bone-chilling, but Shiva didn’t even notice. Not because of the heat that emanated from the Pakrati huts that were being gutted by gigantic flames, but because of the fire that burnt within.

Shiva wiped his eyes and stared at his reflection in the water. Raw fury gripped him. Yakhya, the Pakrati chieftain, had escaped. Shiva controlled his breathing, still recovering from the exhaustion of combat.

He thought he saw his uncle, Manobhu’s bloodied body in the water. Shiva reached out below the surface of the water with his hand. ‘Uncle!’

The mirage vanished. Shiva squeezed his eyes shut.

The macabre moment when he had found his uncle’s body replayed in his mind. Manobhu had gone to discuss a peace treaty with Yakhya, hoping the Pakratis and Gunas would end their incessant warmongering. When he hadn’t returned at the appointed time, Shiva had sent out a search party. Manobhu’s mutilated body, along with those of his bodyguards, had been found next to a goat trail on the way to the Pakrati village.

A message had been written in blood; on a rock next to where Manobhu had breathed his last.

‘Shiva. Forgive them. Forget them. Your only true enemy is Evil.’

All that his uncle wanted was peace and this is how they had repaid him.

‘Where’s Yakhya?’ Bhadra’s scream broke Shiva’s chain of thoughts.

Shiva turned. The entire Pakrati village was up in flames. Some thirty dead bodies lay strewn across the clearing; brutally hacked by the enraged Gunas seeking vengeance for their former chief’s death. Five Pakrati men knelt on the ground, tied together, a continuous rope binding their wrists and feet. Both ends of the rope had been hammered into the ground. The fierce Bhadra, bloodied sword in hand, led the twenty Guna guards. It was impossible for the Pakratis to escape.

At a distance, another contingent of Guna warriors guarded the shackled Pakrati women and children; unharmed thus far. The Gunas never killed or even hurt women and children. Never.

‘Where is Yakhya?’ repeated Bhadra, pointing his sword menacingly at a Pakrati.

‘We don’t know,’ the Pakrati answered. ‘I swear we don’t know.’

Bhadra dug his sword point into the man’s chest, drawing blood. ‘Answer and you shall have mercy. All we want is Yakhya. He will pay for killing Manobhu.’

‘We didn’t kill Manobhu. I swear on all the mountain gods, we didn’t kill him.’

Bhadra kicked the Pakrati hard. ‘Don’t lie to me, you stinking arsehole of a yak!’

Shiva turned away as his eyes scanned the forests beyond the clearing. He closed his eyes. He could still hear his uncle Manobhu’s words echo in his ears. ‘Anger is your enemy. Control it! Control it!’

Shiva took deep breaths as he tried to slow down his furiously pounding heart.

‘If you kill us, Yakhya will come back and kill all of you,’ screamed a Pakrati at the end of the rope line. ‘You will never know peace! We shall have the final vengeance!’

‘Shut up, Kayna,’ shouted another Pakrati, before turning to Bhadra. ‘Release us. We had nothing to do with it.’

But the Pakrati seemed to have come unhinged. ‘Shiva!’ shouted Kayna.

Shiva turned.

‘You should be ashamed to call Manobhu your uncle,’ roared Kayna.

‘Shut up, Kayna!’ screamed all the other Pakratis.

But Kayna was beyond caring. His intense loathing for the Gunas had made him abandon his instinct for self-preservation. ‘That coward!’ he spat. ‘Manobhu bleated like a goat as we shoved his intestines and his peace treaty down his throat!’

Shiva’s eyes widened, as the rage bubbling under the surface broke through. Screaming at the top of his lungs, he drew his sword and charged. Without breaking a step, he swung viciously as he neared the Pakratis, beheading Kayna in one mighty blow. The severed head smashed into the Pakrati beside him, before ricocheting off to the distance.

‘Shiva!’ screamed Bhadra.

They needed the Pakratis alive if they were to find Yakhya. But Bhadra was too disciplined a tribesman to state the obvious. Besides, at that moment, Shiva didn’t care. He swirled smoothly, swinging his sword again and again, decapitating the next Pakrati and the next. It was only a matter of moments before five beheaded Pakrati bodies lay in the mud, their hearts still pumping blood out of their gaping necks, making it pool around the bodies, almost as though they lay in a lake of blood.

Shiva breathed heavily, as he stared at the dead, his uncle’s voice ringing loudly in his head.

‘Anger is your enemy. Control it! Control it!’

‘I have been waiting for you, my friend,’ said the teacher. He was smiling, his eyes moist. ‘I’d told you, I would go anywhere for you. Even to Patallok if it would help you.’

How often had Shiva replayed these words uttered by the man who stood before him. But he had never fully understood the reference to the land of the demons. Now it all fell into place.

The beard had been shaved, replaced by a pencil-thin moustache. The broad shoulders and barrel chest were much better defined. The man must be getting regular exercise. The janau, the holy thread of Brahmin identity, was loosely slung over newly developed muscles. The head remained shaven, but the tuft of hair at the back appeared longer and neater. The deep-set eyes had the same serenity that had drawn Shiva to him earlier. It was his long-lost friend. His comrade in arms. His brother.

‘Brahaspati!’

‘It took you a very long time to find me.’ Brahaspati stepped close and embraced Shiva. ‘I have been waiting for you.’

Shiva hesitated for a moment before joyously embracing Brahaspati, allowing his emotions to take over. But no sooner had he regained his composure, than doubts started creeping into his mind.

Brahaspati created the illusion of his death. He allied with the Nagas. He destroyed his life’s purpose, the great Mount Mandar. He was the Suryavanshi mole!

My brother lied to me!

Shiva stepped back silently. He felt Sati’s hand on his shoulder, in silent commiseration.

Brahaspati turned to his students. ‘Children, could you please excuse us?’

The students immediately rose and left. The only people left in the room were Shiva, Brahaspati, Sati, Ganesh and Kali.

Brahaspati stared at his friend, waiting for the questions. He could sense the hurt and anger in Shiva’s eyes.

‘Why?’ he asked.

‘I thought I would spare you the dreadful personal fate that is the inheritance of the Mahadevs. I tried to do your task. One cannot fight Evil and not have its claws leave terrible scars upon one’s soul. I wanted to protect you.’

Shiva’s eyes narrowed. ‘Were you fighting Evil all by yourself? For more than five years?’

‘Evil is never in a rush,’ reasoned Brahaspati. ‘It creeps up slowly. It doesn’t hide, but confronts you in broad daylight. It gives decades of warnings, even centuries at times. Time is never the problem when you battle Evil. The problem is the will to fight it.’