The silence seemed to be lasting forever. The occasional rustle of the dry leaves and the gentle humming of the perennial river were the only disturbances to the endearing silence. All eyes were on the Queen Mother, some were filled with anger, some with anticipation, and some with grief, yet they held their emotions at bay and awaited the verdict. The settlement of the Pahad community held their Queen mother in the highest regard and her court was located right at the center of the village. The Queen was seated on a raised platform upon a gigantic chair with two female attenders on her flanks. She carried a scepter, which marked her supremacy in the affairs of the community. Yet the unflinching respect echoed by the silence and the elegant scepter were the only things that suggested the sovereignty of her post. She was a small woman whose face exhibited compassion and her demeanor was calm and composed. Her green eyes traveled across the gathered crowd and she could feel their tension.
“Your Highness. The Verdict…!”
The eldest of the Pahads had taken upon himself the task to break the silence. The queen nodded slightly and her eyes fell on the acquitted.
“Young one do you understand the audacity of the sin you have committed?”
“I always kept in mind what is best for us and…”
“Dry words child. You have hurt the sentiments of our people and your act indicates blasphemy of the highest order. And in the court of the Queen of the Pahads, justice always reigns ultimate.”
She looked at the tall and muscular, dark haired rebellious young lad and got a feeling of looking at her own self, it took her only a moment to compose herself. Her jaw was set and the boy knew his fate has been decided.
“Sire, it is a male child! May he live to eternity!”
Bhuva hugged the attender and exclaimed, “O Lord! Thank you for this wonderful gift you have bestowed upon me.”
The Pahad chief entered the chambers of his queen and proudly looked at his little one and his mother. He stood speechlessly at the edge of the bed.
“Lord what shall we name him?”
“He has brought immense joy to us Shivani, we shall name him Anand. May he always bring Anand those around him and to our community.”
“Shivani, this thought has been pestering my mind since a very long time I wanted to share but…”
“What is it Lord?”
“Do not misunderstand me for speaking my heart out at the outset of such a momentous occasion. The duty of the chief is always to be like a godfather to his tribe. Even his family becomes a second priority. I have often lived up to the expectations of my people and I know I have not been an ideal husband.”
“Lord have I ever caused any inconvenience or did I express any displeasure that you chose to punish me with such words?”
“You are too gracious my queen. You understand me the best, I hope your upbringing of our child ensures he too understands the selflessness involved in being a chief’s son. Shivani promise me that if ever any misfortune befalls upon me and I am separated from my tribe, you will continue to uphold justice in our village thinking of our tribe first and only then family, your son….”
“Lord!! Nothing will happen to you! ”
“Shivani, please promise me!”
The response from the queen was barely audible.
“I promise you Lord.”
The Pahad community was a close knitted one. They were interdependent and united and were sensitive to each other’s emotions and sentiments. A feeling of mutual respect and peace was always etched in the Pahad way of living. Their oneness made them invincible and the tribes around the hills never ventured to affront them. They lived in harmony with the forest and believed the invisible God always watched over them. A freshwater lake in the eastern part of the settlement was their source of essentials of water and food. They considered the lake to be consecrated and worshipped it every day as the first rays of the sun dazzled upon its surface.
Nothing lasts forever. Neither peace nor war. Neither love nor hatred.
So is the case with every community in history. The Pahads were blissfully unaware of the trials and tribulations they were doomed to confront. One shadowy night saw the rise of a philosophy that would question the fundamental faith of the Pahads.
“My King there is a priest who seems to have lost his way and he seeks refuge.”
The chief raised an eyebrow and followed the soldier. “A priest?”
As the boy was being dragged away from the court to his execution he exclaimed.
“Please listen to me Mother…”
“You are not my son” cried the Queen with each syllable filled with contempt and disgust.
“Just one chance to explain.”
“Why don’t you give him a chance dear Queen?”
The priest’s face failed to convey the message his words meant to put across. He did not even attempt to mask the contentment and wild joy from his face. He was nowhere close to feeling any pity for the boy.
The Queen’s fury was further heightened by the priest’s falsified pity and she thundered, “Take him away from my sight.”
The crowd was appalled at the Queen losing composure and quickly set themselves to motion.
Tradition held that for the worst of the crimes the acquitted is to be drowned in the holy lake. Belief was that death at the holy lake would cleanse the soul and free it of any guilt.
“Your second chance will be only after your death at the holy lake. I will not be coming to the execution but the rest of you will be present to take it to your heart the lesson of justice you witnessed today. My Verdict is final, nothing will change it.”
As the last among the crowd left the court, the queen let out an inaudible sob and the attendant barely managed to catch her in time to stop her from having a head on collision with the solid ground beneath her.
“This idol of the Lord who watches over all of us will bring prosperity to the tribe. Worship it and there shall be only happiness in your life, disregard it and you will be haunted by sorrow and solitude forever.”
The Pahads looked at the white marble idol held by the priest in awe and in unison they prostrated with anxiety. The chief’s brow deepened and he was sad that his innocent people were being manipulated. Each member of the Pahad community was a master of his own and the King did not like his tribe to bow before anyone. The priest seemed to have had a strange charisma. Within weeks he gained immense popularity among the people and they listened to him with a sense of belongingness.
“We should create a suitable place for the idol to be placed and worshipped.”
The priest turned to the king and said, “Dear king what do you command?”
Looking at an expectant crowd he said, “Install the idol with all due respect in a place that the priest thinks is suitable for worship.”
The crowd cried, “Hail the king” and slowly parted to their homes.
The idol found its place not only in the settlement but also in the heart of every Pahad individual. The king was initially happy that his people were happy and even ignored the power the priest was holding. Slowly but steadily there was a change in the people. His concern was that there was an increase in the unrest among the people. They seemed to be blindly depending on their faith on the idol, the priest and their self-confidence seemed to be dwindling.
The Pahads became complacent and even stopped the worship of the lake that was no less a mother to them. All these happenings only increased the unsettling feeling the king had right from the day the priest first surfaced on that fateful night.
“Shivani something just doesn’t seem right. The strength of our tribe was always in the unity amongst our ranks and today I was shattered when I was passing through the streets confronting the demonic cold mistrust that crept into our people. The priest…Ugh I should have refused to let him into our village.”
“Lord I understand your concern but at the moment we cannot exile the priest. Our people adore him and…”
“I know Shivani and I just need one cocrete evidence to prove that he is inimical to our society. Soon people may even start questioning my verdict.”
“Father we are always with you and we will never let you down.”
“Anand my family will be biased towards me and people should never feel that I have a sense of partiality for you. Even in the darkest of the moments if they realize that I was on their side their love for my word will multiply manifold.”
The priest followed the crowd as they proceeded to the lake for the execution of the heir to the Queen mother. A thin smile crossed across his lips and wondered how the Pahads could be conned so easily. Right from his entry to the settlement everything has been smooth and all that was required to turn them against each other and then gradually annihilate the ruling family. He looked into the heavens and said, “Your people have failed you Bhuvan, oh sorry, how could I address the Lord by his name. My majesty may your soul rest in peace.”
It thundered and the priest cried out to the people, “Make it fast soldiers the gods are growing impatient. They want their revenge.”
Anand was shivering, not that death petrified him but he was angry that he can’t get to lay his hands on the priest.
“That idol of yours had no sanity in it. It just caused illusion in my people so I had to destroy it.”
“Speak no more you wretched monster. You wounded people’s sentiments by entering the sanctum sanctorum of the Lord and laying your hands on the idol. Soldiers let him not pollute the pristine minds of our people.”
“But he is our queen’s child, he deserves to at least give his reason for committing such a heinous act.”
Anand gratefully looked at the elderly man and cleared his throat.
Shivani did not like the countenance of the chief when she had announced the verdict without hearing any arguments from her son.
She paced towards the temple where the idol was kept and entered through the magnificent door. She looked at the remains of the shattered idol spread through the length of the floor. It was a white shiny substance that was not available in the domains of the Pahad clan.
“It could only be…,”
It was mixed bag of emotions for Shivani. She was stupefied, exultant and anxious at the same time. She ran towards the exit and summoned her guards.
“We need to go to the lake immediately. There is a mistake.”
“…my father’s last words were Anand at any cost you must save our people before it is too late. You must break their blind worship of the idol.”
“Is it true, dear priest?Did you poison the prasad given to our King Bhuvan?”
“You dare to express your qualm over me old man!! I’ll deal with you after I am done with the boy. This boy is a manifestation of the evil. You are bound by the queen’s words. Her verdict should be respected. Drown the boy or experience the wrath of the gods!”
Anand couldn’t help but smile. The priest was losing his composure sooner or later his mother fill figure out. He played his part. He was content.
He was dragged by the soldiers to the boat and the crowd watched in horror as he was mercilessly taken away to the center of the lake.
They prayed for the queen mother to come elevate them from their turmoil. There was loud splash and they saw Anand drowning helplessly. The Pahads never felt anguish at a drowning convict. There was always a first time for everything. There was a commotion and the queen mother entered the arena shrieking out her son’s name.
Realizing that it was too late. The queen took a minute to gather her bearings and exhibiting equanimity of the highest order she turned towards the crowd and her gaze rested on the priest.
“Arrest the traitor immediately.”
“My lady you are mistaken. And I was about to come to the extent of powers you exercise over your people. We should deliberate upon the issue of your supremacy over your people. The dominance of your verdict should be put under intense questioning. Alas your last words serving as the chieftain were orders issued to execute your own son.”
The queen was appalled by the malicious words of the priest and her legs were almost giving away she dismally said, “My people will not put me down.”
“They are no longer your people lady. They are clear in their beliefs and they will not entertain your monarchy anymore. Your child drowns and your people do nothing about it, if they loved you they would not have let it happen. And if you held your son close to your heart the verdict would have been different.”
“My decisions were always depending on what is best for my people. You do not understand the subtleties involved in my verdict. When I ordained the execution of my son I was sacrificing my own blood for my own people.”
She dropped the remains of the statue and the brilliance of the marble caught people’s attention and they gasped in astonishment.
“Mother!!!” the priest looked at Anand in utter disbelief as he swam out of the lake and fell at the feet of his mother. “After all, the men who tied me up were our men and they could never drown their own chap.”
As the priest scanned through the Pahads he realized they had clustered around the queen basking in her word, completely ignoring the priest. He was terrorized to even think what would await him.
“Your majesty forgive us failing to implement your command. We are ready accept any punishment.”
“My people you have only added weight to my verdict by doing the right thing. I feared there would be injustice done to you by allowing you to witness the execution of an innocent boy. I give you the power and authority, my people to announce your verdict regarding the fate of the priest”
All heads turned towards the priest. The fear was evident on the priest’s bodice and he knew his time had come.
Their voice echoed through the forest and this day would stay imprinted in the heart of every Pahad individual. It was a day their verdict changed their lives for the better.