“Mortal’s dream disappears like flaking ice as thunderous storms set life in turmoil.
Tattered remnants of desires remain like ragged flags on the ruins of a fort.”
Next evening, an assembly was organised in the fort. Four silver pillarsbedecked with red canopy above were placed on the floor ; under that sat King Jai Singh and Shivaji on the throne wrapped in red. Hundreds of people from nearby villages crying victory to the kings and the Emperor of Delhi assembled there.
Jai Singh could not help praising Shivaji, “Admire you for becoming the right hand person of the Emperor so soon. All your efforts will be rewarded by the Emperor sooner or later.”
Shivaji: “We have won, but the loss we have suffered also huge. I could not do it as effortlessly as I expected. I found all enemies guarding the fort awake and armed even in the middle of night. I never lost so many of my soldiers during fort.” He looked depressed.
One thousand soldiers used to protect that almost inaccessible fort under the leadership of Rahmat Khan. Only few survived the attack. They were brought to the assembly in a row. Shivaji ordered to release them as he mostly did after acquiring forts from enemies. He gave them the option of joining the Mughal army. Otherwise they could safely go back to Bijapur. Many of the Afghans agreed to work under the Mughal army being convinced by his courteousness.
Rahamat Khan – the previous fort-keeper was brought to the court. Also this badly injured prisoner’s hands were tied up behind. The brave man stood like a hero looking straight at Shivaji. Shivaji got up from his seat, opened his sword and untied the enemy’s hands with that. Solemnly he said, “Brave man! Your hands were tied only because the rules of war directed us so. We had to take you as prisoner for a night – I beg your pardon for that. You are free now. Luck determines our victory or defeat in war. But I have been honoured to fight against your kind of a great warrior.”
Rahamat Khan was waiting for death sentence. The respectful behaviour of the winner made him emotional.
Jai Singh asked him, “You have proved your ability suitable to your position. The Emperor will be stronger if your kind of a great leader joins him. Shall I send a message to him that a hero like you is ready to lead his armed force?”
Loyalty prohibited Rahamat Khan to accept the proposal. He said: “My Lord! I am honoured with your proposition. But I will not leave my master for whom I worked so long. I will use my sword only for the Sultan of Bijapur till the end of my life.”
Shivaji: “So be it! Take rest tonight. Tomorrow mornings, one platoon of my army will escort you till Bijapur, so that you reach safely.
Rahamat Khan: “You have been courteous to me. I wouldn’t deceive you. I would suggest you to investigate – not all of your soldiers are loyal. I have received the information about your plan before you attacked the fort yesterday. That was reason my force stayed alert last night. One of your army spied for us. I cannot tell you more; I don’t want to breach trust as well.”
Shivaji’s face blackened and eyes red in rage. His trembling lips told his colleagues that providing even a good suggestion would be futile at that moment. Judging the situation, Jai Singh tried to pacify him by taking the responsibility of asking the soldiers, “When did you come to know of the schedule of attack yesterday?”
The soldiers replied, “At nine at night.”
Jai Singh: “None of you knew this beforehand?”
Soldiers: “We knew we were going to attack a fort; but did not know which one.”
Jai Singh: “Good, what time did you reach the fort?”
Enquiry like this went on for some time, till he asked the name of the person who might had been absent from camp previous night. The soldiers tried to remember events that happened previous night. They started talking to each other. Shivaji’s anger calmed down a little. A jumladar named Balwantrao stood up, “My Lord! We did not see one of the havildars under me last evening. He joined us after we reached at the foot of this fort.”
The assembly went silent. Everyone was waiting to hear the name of the disloyal one. Only the sound of Shivaji’s fast breathing was being heard. In the midst of that absolute silence, Balwantrao calmly told, “Raghupati Havildar.”
Everyone was awestruck. Shivaji’s face blackened again. Biting his lip hard he roared, “You deceitful one! You are only lying when you blame him like this. Your condemning him would not yield any fruit; I have seen Raghupati’s action myself. But the soldiers should see the punishment delivered to a crafty jumladar.”
As Shivaji was pulling his iron spear, Raghupati came forward all on a sudden. He stood before his master and told, “My Lord, don’t kill my superior. He is not lying. I was really late in reaching the fort.”
Again an absolute silence covered the assembly. Fear kept all of them motionless. Shivaji sat as still as a sculpture for some time. Wiping sweat from his forehead he said, “Am I in deep sleep now? You Raghupati – did this treachery?”
Raghupati told in a deep voice, “I am not at fault for that.”
Shivaji was furious. He pointed his finger at him and roared, “Why did you disappear in the middle of the night disobeying my order then?”
Raghupati’s lips quivered. But he did not answer – looked at the floor instead.
His calmness before threat fuelled Shivaji’s anger. He yelled in a thundering voice, “Life sentence for treason!”
The king was not being able to control his anger any more. His hand was trembling along with the spear. Betrayal by person who we trust as friend becomes more shocking an experience than facing an enemy – hence intolerable. Jai Singh pursued, “You are the King of Kshtriyas. You will never be able to change your decision made today. If you deliver death sentence to this person today, you may regret that decision the rest of your life. My long experience in battlefields says this warrior is not a traitor. But this is not the time to investigate everything. I am your friend – begging for life of this Rajput soldier being a friend. Please oblige me.”
Shivaji was probably influenced seeing the politeness of the Rajput. He responded, “Forgive my rudeness. I won’t ignore your words. But pardoning a traitor is also not possible. Havildar! Your king saved your life today. But now get lost! Never ever try to show your face to me!”
Raghupati controlled himself with lot of effort, looked at Shivaji once and bowed before leaving the fort silently.
The shadow of the evening is slowing swallowing the earth. A lone traveller is walking towards the fields coming down from the mountain. He crosses the field, enters a village – crosses that village too and proceeds to the next field. He disappears in the growing darkness of the night.