One week later, Vyasa’s statement was proven correct. He rushed into the throne room and found King Janaka conducting his daily meeting with his ministers. Conversation halted as Vyasa approached the king.
“Sire, he’s here,” Vyasa whispered into the Janaka’s ear.
The king waved his hands, dismissing the ministers. Once they scurried out of the room, Janaka nodded to two of his guardsmen.
The heavy doors at the opposite end of the room swung open. An Asura named Mahishasura entered. He surveyed the room with one sweeping glance as he strode across the marble floor. Despite his towering height, Mahishasura looked up at the throne from the bottom of the steps. “Janaka.”
“So, we finally meet,” King Janaka nodded back, and remained seated. He pointedly lowered his head to look down at the Asura. It was customary for two royals of equal status to greet each other on level ground. “I’m told that you are the legendary Mahishasura.”
Mahishasura’s golden eyes eyes narrowed. He recognized the insult. “I am.”
“You look more human than I expected,” Janaka remarked casually. He scanned the Asura from head to toe. “I’ve heard that you are part water buffalo. If the stories are true, where are your horns?”
Mahishasura smiled, baring even white teeth. “Stories don’t always contain truth.”
Vyasa fluttered around Janaka nervously. He said softly, “Sire, I must remind you that we invited him here. We need his help.”
“Yes, yes,” Janaka lifted one hand and waved Vyasa away. The internal struggle was apparent on his face. After a few moments of silence, he stood up and walked down the steps. “My advisor has reminded me that you have done us a great favor by appearing in our court.” He extended his hand. “Please forgive me. You have shown us a great honor with your visit.”
Mahishasura raised an eyebrow. After pausing, he took Janaka’s hand and clasped it in greeting. “You are forgiven. Now, what is the purpose of my visit?”
“I have been told that your people have special,” Janaka hesitated. He searched for the word. “Abilities.” When Mahishasura remained silent, Janaka continued. “I have need of such abilities.”
“Is that so?” The expression on Mahishasura’s face was mild interest. “And why is that?”
Janaka grimaced, as if he spotted something distasteful. He squared his shoulders. “My advisors tell me that I will never have an heir without your help.”
“I see,” Mahishasura replied evenly. He didn’t appear surprised by the revelation. “And if this is true, why should I help you?”
The Asura was trying to bargain with him. Well, this was something that Janaka could understand. “What do you want from us in exchange for your help?” He extended his hand to point out the splendors of the room. “Gold? Jewels? I will pay your fee.”
Mahishasura snorted. “I am the rightful King of Mahishuru. It is one of the wealthiest kingdoms in Bharat. Do you think I could be bought so easily?”
“But you’re not,” Vyasa interjected. When Mahishasura turned his gaze to Vyasa, the old advisor stammered. “Your Highness, I mean no disrespect. But I have been told that you gave up your right to the throne to follow the teachings of the Seers.”
Mahishasura nodded. “You speak the truth. I am no longer the King of Mahishuru. But my people still follow my words as law.”
“Then why are you here?” King Janaka demanded. He didn’t have time to banter with an Asura. “If not for gold or wealth, why are you here?”
Mahishasura’s brow furrowed. Why indeed? “I will help you. But for a price.”
King Janaka threw up his hands in exasperation. “What price? I just offered you all of the gold you could ever want.”
“My price isn’t wealth,” Mahishsura replied. He glanced over his shoulder and nodded at someone waiting outside the throne room. “I need your protection. For him.”
A woman holding the hand of a boy walked up to the group. The boy was young and handsome. While the woman kept her eyes cast downward, the boy boldly met the penetrating gaze of Vyasa. He grinned, showing a flash of even white teeth, before turning his golden eyes to King Janaka.
“Who is this child?” King Janaka demanded. There was something about the boy that made him uneasy.
Mahishasura smiled. He rested his hand on the boy’s thick black hair. “He is the son of the Sage Vishrava. His name is Ravana.”