The two Devas stared at the boy in stunned silence. Janaka was the first to speak. “The son of Sage Vishrava?” He turned to Vyasa. “Why wasn’t I told that the King of Lanka has an heir?”
Vyasa shook his head helplessly. “Sire, I didn’t know. My sources never revealed that King Pulastya had a grandson.” He looked at the boy’s eyes again. There was no mistaking his eye color. “And certainly not an Asura grandson.”
“How would your sources know if we never told them?” Mahish chuckled. At Vyasa’s startled look, the Asura smiled. “We are aware of your sources. They only relay the information that we allow.” The boy stood silently, listening intently to the exchange. His sharp eyes absorbed the shock on the Devas’ faces.
“How did this happen?” Janaka could barely contain his horror. The kings of Lanka came from one of the most illustrious Deva bloodlines in Bharat. To see it contaminated by Asura blood was appalling.
Mahish replied, “Vishrava has taken a second wife.”
“But after the death of his first wife, Vishrava renounced his claim to the throne,” Vyasa exclaimed, shaking his head in protest. How had his sources missed this piece of critical information? “He even vowed to remain celibate.”
“Well, even the most celibate man can be swayed by extraordinary beauty.” Mahish laughed. It was amusing to watch the Devas squirm at Lanka’s potential change in allegiance. “Vishrava married the eldest daughter of King Sumali. They now have four children. Ravana is their eldest child.”
“Sumali’s daughter?” Vyasa repeated. The princesses of Daitya were renowned in Bharat for their beauty. Mere mortal men couldn’t resist their charms. But they were still the daughters of an Asura king who hungered for more power. This new alliance didn’t bode well for the kingdom of Videha. “And what of Prince Kubera?” The younger son of Pulstya was second in the line of succession to the throne of Lanka. Unless the birth of Ravana had changed that.
“The line of succession remains the same now that Vishrava has children.” As Mahish continued to speak, King Janaka looked at him in horror. “Ravana is the heir to the throne of Lanka. But if Pulstya passes before Ravana comes of age, Kubera will rule in Ravana’s name.” Mahish caught the look that was exchanged between King Janaka and Vyasa. “Yes. Therein lies the dilemma.”
“You fear harm will befall the boy before he comes of age?” Vyasa said softly. “And if it does, Kubera ascends the throne.”
“Yes. That is why I am here,” Mahish replied. He turned to look at King Janaka. “And that is why I will help you. But I must have your word that you will protect Ravana with your lives.”
King Janaka could feel Ravana’s penetrating gaze. He tried not to squirm, as he raised his hand. “I have heard your plea for help. I must speak with my advisors before I make a decision.” He nodded to one of his guards, who left the throne room and returned with a young woman. “My staff will escort you to your quarters. Please rest and refresh yourselves while I sit in deliberation on the matters we have just discussed.”
Mahish nodded, somewhat disappointed. It had been foolish to hope for an immediate response. “As you wish. Thank you for your hospitality.”
Once Mahish and Ravana left the throne room, Vyasa turned to Janaka. “Sire, shall I call the others?”
“No,” Janaka said grimly. “I have no need of their counsel. But I would hear your thoughts.”
As King Janaka sat on the throne, his advisor, Vyasa, paced the floor. “This child changes everything,” Vyasa muttered.
“Well, this is a fine mess that your Asura Mahish has brought to my kingdom. Age has addled Pulstya’s mind if he allowed this union.” Janaka’s jaw tightened. It was inconceivable that Vishrava, the firstborn son of Pulstya, would have married an Asura. And not just any Asura. A daughter of Sumali, King of the Daityas.
“It’s an outrage,” Vyasa nodded in agreement. The entire situation was unsettling. Sumali was making a power play for Lanka. “I feel certain that this was Sumali’s doing.”
“Yes,” Janaka pounded his fist on the arm of the throne. “Sumali and one of his seductress daughters.” It made sense. Lanka was the wealthiest kingdom in Bharat.
“He hopes to acquire more weapons with Lanka’s wealth,” Vyasa continued to speculate out loud. His face was grim. Videha’s wealth, although plentiful, was no match for Lanka. And Sumali had always eyed Videha’s fertile land.
“And now Sumali has what he wants. The thrones of Lanka and Daitya will unite under that boy,” Janaka snarled. He was consumed by one thought. Eliminating the boy.
“Sire, we must proceed with caution,” Vyasa said. His mind was still whirling at the failure of his people. Were his sources compromised? How many years had his people been under the control of the Asuras? The boy, Ravana, was at least five years old. So, for five years, no one in the kingdom of Videha had known about his existence? This failure was beyond unacceptable. Janaka would view it as treason. Heads would roll.
“Of course we must proceed with caution,” Janaka snapped. He rubbed his temples, which were beginning to throb. Once the boy was gone, Lanka would remain under the control of the Devas. “Do you take me for a fool?”
“Forgive me, Sire,” Vyasa replied deferentially. Janaka’s thoughts were obvious. Vyasa knew that he had to tread lightly. “I speak to myself as well as to you.”
“Enough, enough,” Janaka waved his hand, dismissing the apology. Kubera must ascend Lanka’s throne after Pulstya.
“May I speak freely?” Vyasa asked. It was best to change the subject. Janaka nodded. “It is in our best interest to have Lanka remain under Deva rule.”
“Agreed. Kubera is a fool, but he’s a Deva. He will remain our ally after his father’s death.” Janaka leaned on the left arm of the throne, rested his chin on one hand. His dark brows knit together. “This is why we must return the Demon boy to him.”
“Ravana, sire,” Vyasa said. He stifled a sigh. Janaka was working himself up into one of his fits of rage. It would be difficult to lead him to the larger picture. “The boy’s name is Ravana.”
“What difference does his name make?” King Janaka’s loud voice thundered through the throne room. “He will never sit on the throne of Lanka.”
“Sire, Asura or not, Ravana is still the grandson of King Pulstya,” Vyasa said calmly. “If we were to harm the boy, Pulstya will have no choice but to attack Videha.”
“I have no intention of harming the boy,” Janaka huffed. He looked mildly offended. “But he shouldn’t be here. There is no need to antagonize Prince Kubera. Send the boy back to his people and let them sort it out.”
“And what of your quest? You will never have an heir without the help of Mahish.” Vyasa said. He watched Janaka digest the reminder. “And he will never help you unless you vow to protect Ravana.”
The two men were silent. After a few moments, King Janaka leaned forward and scowled at Vyasa. “Then find someone who isn’t a traitor and send a message to Pulstya. We must find out his stance on this grandson. Until then, the child will remain under my protection.” Janaka’s nostrils flared at Vyasa’s obvious sigh of relief. “But only until then.”