the letter from… papa

Chapter 17

Shiv stood outside a local bank in Mahabaleshwar a couple of days later. Why did his father have an account here? Captain Rawat had handed a letter the earlier day when he had met him.

“Look, Shiv, here is what your father wanted you to do. I was supposed to give this to you after you took a break from active duty. Your latest mission is to continue what he left undone….” Captain Rawat handed over the sealed letter to Shiv.

Later as he sat reading the letter in the dorm, Shiv wondered what his father wanted. The letter was written two years ago, a little before he had passed. Why didn’t he arrange for the letter to be given to Shiv two years ago? Shiv realized he never understood the man.

‘Dear Shiv

You are reading this probably because I am no more. I don’t have any regret in life except for two points, First, I have not completed my tenure as the Royal staff, and second, I missed seeing you grow. Despite having us as parents, you have grown into a good man, and I am proud of you. I am leaving behind what I have earned. Its not just the money saved up all these years but also a couple of properties I had invested in, including our land in Koini. That grove, son is all yours now. I got it recently, thanks to the Queen’s grace.

I owe her a lot Shiv and I hope you protect the princess. The King has influence and is capable of everything but still, all is not enough. It never was. There is a wolf in sheep’s clothing that I haven’t discovered yet. But the princess is in danger…

Protect her, my son. I won’t force you, but only you are capable of doing the job. There is something you may need when the time comes that’s enclosed in a box in the safe deposit unit of the bank mentioned. The codes are your date of birth. But use it…. Only when the time is right. You will know when it happens. I trust your judgment.

It’s very dangerous, son; I think the Queen has unearthed something sinister, and we can’t share unless we get the evidence. She didn’t want me involved, but I have pledged my life to her and the princess.

If something happens to me, be very careful if you decide to find out the facts. Those people are influential and dangerous. Even more than what I had thought. More powerful than the Royals too.

But most of all you have to keep yourself safe to protect the princess. I am sure the King will do his best to find out the truth… a truth that can destroy everything. Meanwhile if you decide to look for evidence, figure it out. I cannot endanger captain Rawat… hence this poem.

The mystic beauty allures me

The heavy gush pulls me

The musical hues engulf me

The clang of brass stills me

The beautiful eyes intrigue me

The dark walls close in on me….

All together, they are lethal

But yet all the very special…

 

Cursed by something too sinister

Tough frontiers see cracks clear

The holy-nature combine forces

Yet I am unable to curtail losses…

 

So, my son, this is where it all began,

-Your unfortunate father’.

(PS: destroy the letter once you memorize it)

 

Shiv crumpled the letter and sat still trying to figure out what his father meant.The next day Captain Rawat revealed the name of the bank and that morning he stood before the old stone building housing the bank.

He stared at the letters on the glow signboard and must have memorized the pattern every person walking in must have followed. He kept thinking about the letter and the strange poem. But nothing made sense.

He hoped the locker might have information. Walking into the bank he produced his identification and his father’s authority letter. Captain Rawat also gave him a letter, and the fact that he was from the Army helped. There were no questions asked. The locker was paid for five years and there were still three remaining so the bank didn’t care.

He opened the locker using the code and found the property documents and a few bank accounts in his father’s name where money was deposited, and it was all to the tune of a whooping 50Lakhs INR. His father’s will with Captain Rawat, bequeathed everything to him.

He shook his head as the fact was yet to sink in. The property papers were there too. The property in Koini and another property that he didn’t know the location. He noted the address and decided to find out later. There was a wooden box too as mentioned in the letter.

It was a beautifully carved one and when he flicked the lid open his eyes widened. There was a beautiful handmade ring on sterling silver with greenstone. This was odd… where did his father get this from? Some inscription on the ring indicated it wasn’t an Indian make. He clicked a picture and sent it to his friend still working in the special unit. With his contacts, Shiv could get information about the ring.

He placed it all back into the locker and the ring in his pocket.

Later that night he burnt the letter. But he had memorized the poem, and whenever the beautiful princess’s hooded eyes, as she pulled him towards her, didn’t haunt him, he struggled to think of the hidden meaning.

His blood boiled at the thought of someone wanting to harm the innocent princess. She probably was clueless even if she remembered the incident in the fort..

Wait… fort?

It was raining heavily that night, and the region had witnessed the heaviest rainfall of the season. So what was his father doing in the fort? Why did he go there with the Queen? Whatever the reason, his father would never endanger the Queen’s life. What was so important that Queen left her daughter’s birthday celebration and went to the goddamn dilapidated fort?

Their car wasn’t tampered with, which meant they had gone there on their own accord and probably walked into a trap.

He had heard about the fort belonging to the Queen’s ancestors in passing. Something told him the answers lay in the fort.

He didn’t hear anything from his ‘eyes’ about anything amiss in the palace, which meant the princess was safe. The princess wouldn’t do anything foolish to call for attention, so he explored a bit. He read about the fort’s history sent by his sources.

The fort ‘Shivgadh’ belonged to the great Maratha warrior Shivaji Maharaj and he had received it as a gift when he was very young. Lord Shiva was the presiding diety of the fort temple. However, when the Mughals had tried to capture the fort and laid siege, they had destroyed the temple. Later, after reclaiming the fort, Shivaji Maharaj installed Maa Bhavani’s idol and worshipped her. From then on for many years, Maa Bhavani was the presiding diety. Shivaji Maharaj had gifted the fort to Tanaji Malsure to honour him…

Queen Gayatri Raje was a direct descendent of the Malsure clan and had inherited the fort. However, her ancestors failed to maintain the fort, which bore the harsh weather in neglect and was dilapidated. Since the fort was declared a heritage site years ago, the Queen had requested for the renovation of the same. However, red tape took time, and the funds were still to be sanctioned.

Shiv racked his brains and wondered what was so special about the fort for the Queen to go there to her death?

There had to be something in the fort, given that the men were there. They could have killed the Queen anywhere else and dumped the body, and the rain would have destroyed the evidence.

He decided to pay a visit to the fort. It had to happen in the night and he loved the darkness… he was a pro at navigating the dark. His friend in the special units promised to find out the details about the fort in depth. Shiv knew the local folklore would be the best source of information, however, he couldn’t reveal himself. His friend from the gurukul, Maanav Deshmukh, had the gift of the gab and his lanky build helped him get into any disguise. Maanav, who was on sabbatical from duty, promised to help him. He was to arrive there the next day.

That night when the world slept Shiv made his move. He adjusted his licenced gloak and checked his ammunition just in case…

It was not a full moon night but the slight moonlight was enough for him. He didn’t want to use his torch to call for attention. Though the property was still marked by the tapes as a ‘crime scene’ two years later, there could be the watchdogs for the perps waiting for him.

He had thought he was emotionally strong and could detach himself given what he had seen that night but it was easier thought than done.

His breath started to gasp as he approached the broken stone steps. Two years of wear and tear had taken it’s course and it was damaged further.

He somehow made it to the spot where he had seen the princess and then walked down to the inner sanctum where he had seen his father and the Queen. The marking done by the police on the ground had faded away or washed away. With great difficulty, he controlled his breath as he walked towards where his father lay.

He then moved towards where the Queen was hit and stood for a moment, looking around. He realized he was facing the run-down temple… of Maa Bhavani. There was a draft of breeze he felt on his face and right then the brass bell of the temple though tied, made a clanging sound.

The clang of brass stills me

As the breeze increased as it usually did before a downpour in these regions, the air hit the pillar cavity, and it was as if music played. The resonance was such that the frequencies played out a pleasing note.

The musical hues engulf me

He shone his torch, and the thin beam of light fell upon the Goddess… revealing the pair of most beautiful eyes he had ever seen.

The beautiful eyes intrigue me

He remembered the line from the poem. Did his father mean Maa Bhavani? But Her eyes were firm and full of soul… he moved the torch beam towards her foot and then it fell on her ‘vahan’ the tiger and the gleaming eyes took him aback. It was as if they wanted to tell a story…

His father didn’t mean the Goddess… he had meant the tiger.

Shiv walked closer and touched the stone tiger. It was cold but how could the eyes gleam? They were painted ages ago…

With trembling hands, he touched the tiger’s eye. It wasn’t stone but something firm. He pushed it further and felt it move.

Bingo

 

©Priya Nayak-Gole

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