Saturday, 9 October 2010

Ayodhya - One

Spy


The spy master of Ayodhya. That's what he was. Third son of the king, de facto second prince of Ayodhya, he had been roped into his duty before he had even turned seven.

Previous spy-masters had always been bastard sons (and in one very special case, a daughter) of the king. Their continued loyalty was ensured by a mix of the knowledge that while their half-siblings ruled, they would live in comfort, a tacit understanding that their children would somehow be inducted into the minor nobility of the court, and the blue sparks behind the Sage's eyes. The first lesson everyone in Ayodhya learned was not to say his name. To even think his name was to invite his attention, to say it was to court his wrath. While the royal line never saw that side of him, believed him to be a wise old man with a spring in his step and a piece of advice for all, it was a lie. Well, a half-lie. That side existed, no doubt. But there was also a side of the Sage only those in the darkness knew. The ruthlessness with which he would hunt down Asura sympathisers, the barely restrained rage in his eyes when the spy master came to him with a tidbit of information that he, with his mystical powers, had missed, the silky voice with which he made his threats to those who contemplated crossing him. Not that there were many of those, of course.

But while previous spy masters had always been bastards, that had not been possible with Dasaratha's progeny. The famed virility of Surya had not passed on to all of his descendants, it seemed. The king had had to marry thrice to finally sire heirs, and even then he begged for help from the Devas. The man had three titled wives, and only Vishnu knew how many concubines, and he was impotent. If it were not for the sheer amount of loyalty he inspired in his people, he would be a laughingstock.

The spy master knew these things. It was his job to know, to document any and all threats that the ordinary police force either could not or would not investigate, everything from the rumours that emerged from the king's kitchen to the price of rice in Gandahar. He was given free reign, as long as it did not harm the princes, and the royal line. This was neatly done away with, given that he was a prince, and part of the royal line. While others who had headed his organisation in the past had always been viewed with distrust, he could not have been. He was bonded to the heir in a way almost no one understood. Only now, in the dark of the night, behind all of his secret walls, in the most hidden chamber of the palace complex, only now would he contemplate the possibility that the unthinking, unblinking devotion he had for his brother was the Sage's doing. Why else would he have bonded with his half brother, and not his twin? He knew his twin almost as well as he did his heir. But why did he know his heir better? He had shared his womb with his twin, he had spent nine months with him even before they were ever born, and he had bonded with the heir.

He was sitting at his desk, studying the journals of previous masters. There were no details of conspiracies, of assassinations, in these journals. Those were just as important, but he had finished studying them for the night. These were merely day to day journals, of life in the castle as a bastard child, of how their children had learned to walk and talk, of how they would wield a bow and a sword. But even in those, there were hints of something deeper. And it always, always came back to the Sage. The Sage meddling in the education of their children. The Sage choosing their wives and their husbands. The Sage, the Sage, the Sage. Meddler and coercer, dealing in things he should have been too dead to interfere in. Gods-cursed fool!

He looked over the latest reports again, searching, hoping, yearning for a different conclusion. He shook his head. It was unavoidable. Vishwamitra was coming to Ayodhya. He had received reports of a puja being desecrated by Asuras, in the same forest that Vishwamitra was last seen in, nigh on four generations ago. The spymaster who had written it down had added a little note at the end, wondering how long it would be before he surfaced again. To anyone else, the unconnected possible sighting of an old man with a staff a couple of centuries ago, a faint chanting heard by travellers in the distance interrupted by screams, and the complete lack of reports from anywhere along the southern outposts would have implied a dozen other explanations. But he had grown up with a Sage, and he knew how they worked. He was not worried for the lives of his spies in the south, merely for their mental well-being.

Vishwamitra. He turned the name over in his mind. A simplistic interpretation of the name would mean He Who Was Friend To All The World. But dig a little deeper, let your mind twist and blur the meanings of the words, and you'd get He Whose Friend Is The World. A reference to the nature of the brotherhood to which he belonged, and his connection to Brahmadeva. And even deeper, you would get He Who Had A Friend Everywhere In The World. He smiled with grim satisfaction. Language had changed in the three millennia since the king became a hermit and discarded his old name for a new one, but it had not changed too much. The double and triple meanings of old high Sanskrit were always difficult to work out, but they were always there. At it's peak, Vishwamitra's spy organisation rivalled Ayodhya's own. Undoubtedly the king had known how it, and by extension spy networks in general, worked. Vishwamitra was no fool. He knew that the spymaster of Ayodhya would have noticed the pattern, would at least account for the possibility that he was headed their way. Ayodhya would be ready.

The next logical step, then, was to ask why. What aid could Ayodhya possibly offer a three thousand year old king-turned-monk? The Sage, that's what Ayodhya could offer. But despite begging for forgiveness, and being forgiven in turn, relations had never quite normalised between the two brahmins. And if he was only approaching to beg the Sage for aid or advice, he would never have alerted anyone who was watching. So then, he must want something only the king could offer. Military aid, perhaps? But the presence of too many kshatriyas would probably disrupt the balance of whatever delicate puja they were conducting. A cadre of elite warriors, then. Possibly headed by a lesser member of the Suryavansha line, one who had yet to prove himself in open combat. His half-cousin, Sharanyan, would do. Yes, he would recommend it to the Sage in the morning, along with the rest of his reports.

Vishwamitra did, however, inspire a sort of grudging respect in the spymaster. After all, it was he who had come the closest to toppling the Sage from his seat many millennia ago. It had also been Vishwamitra who put paid to the theory that it took complete control of one's emotions to become one of the Seven. Vishwamitra's emotions were famously prone to swinging from wrath to mirth and back again, even after his ascension to brahmarishi. The spymaster's personal theory was that all that it took to become a great yogi was sheer, bloody-minded determination. It just so happened that in the pursuit of such power, it was all one could do to hold on to one's will, let alone any of one's other emotions. This was probably also the reason for the attitudes of the Seven in general. The knowledge that they were, in fact, holier than you, and that they had laid eyes on one or more of the Three, and only six others in the world had the capacity to do so. If they were as lacking in emotion as they claimed, they would certainly not be as sanctimonious as they were in reality.

The spymaster stood up, his work for the night mostly completed. He had yet to finish reading some of the older journals, which had to be copied on to new paper with new ink. The first thing that a spy-master in training was told was the importance of maintaining these journals. They were the only thing remaining of the ones before him, who had spent their lives in the shadows, who would never be recognised.

Secure in the knowledge that the next week would the most interesting for many weeks to come, and that he could do absolutely nothing about it, he left his chamber, through passages and hidden doors opened by secret levers, and eventually made it back to his bedchamber. His absences in the middle of the night were never remarked upon, mostly because no one knew they ever happened. Perhaps his heir had an inkling, he knew his twin had wandered into his room once or twice, drunk, and fallen asleep without realising he was not in his own room. His father could not care less, still under the impression that it was his half-brother who ran the networks. His mother might know, he had never told a lie to her, merely never told her the whole truth.

And with that final thought, he fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.

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completely, totally, only slightly-ashamedly inspired by sharan. though i am more than slightly biased towards my namesake, much more than he is.

2 comments:

Sharan said...

Beauty.

Soumithri, what have you been eating these last two posts?

s said...

hopefully, the same things i'm going to be eating for the next five or six posts :P