The Mayor of Satvikshila, Brahmadatta, lived in the grandest mansion in the eastern suburb. The road outside his estate led directly to the eastern national highway that connected various parts of the region to Vijayanagar, the capital city of Satayu. As per the mayor’s orders, the entire stretch, leading up to his gates, was lined with lanterns and strings of flowers to welcome the great general of Satayu.
Veerata and his party arrived late in the evening. It was not his first visit to the university town. Yet, it was the first time he was visiting on imperial orders. Padmapani had received reports from his spies that young girls were getting abducted in Satvikshila. The official report from Mayor Brahmadatta gave a detailed outlook into his ongoing investigation. Unfortunately, the perpetrators had still not been apprehended. Padmapani sent his maternal cousin and favourite warrior on a secret reconnaissance mission to ascertain the situation. On the face of it, the visit was announced as a stopover. Veerata was on his way to the port city, Satana, to take care of the pirate attacks on the coastline. He intended to stay in Satvikshila for a couple of nights only, while his team prepared for the rest of the journey.
The town was excited to receive him. Cheering crowds welcomed him from both sides of the road as he rode past and entered through the gates into the mayor’s mansion. Veerata sat tall and proud on his favourite steed. His face appeared grave but tranquil. Nothing in his posture betrayed the pain he had been enduring in his left thigh for the last three years. After hours of traveling horseback, he was feeling the inevitable fatigue that comes with constant throbbing pain. He wanted nothing more than to lay down on his bed and rest his aching leg, even though he knew sleep would evade him in this state until the pain dropped to a more comfortable level. He also knew that he would have to wait for two more hours before he could expect to retire to his room. A feast had been arranged in his honour. On dismounting, he was led straight to the banquet hall where the mayor and other council members awaited him.
Brahmadatta received him with enormous pomp and show. His family had served the town for generations. He was a rotund, middle-aged man with a shock of curly, grey hair, parted in the middle and oiled thoroughly into a more manageable state. A perpetual grin was spread out over his clean-shaven dark face, revealing two gold caps in a set of pearly-white teeth. Veerata noted that the man’s common attire was white and gold, mimicking the imperial garments, including the red cummerbund on his waist. His pearl jewelry also looked jarringly excessive. His wife was dressed in an equally opulent fashion, though she was much leaner and taller than him. The council members were dressed in light-blue attire, as was expected of most government servants. All of them bowed with joined palms to the young general and his retinue.
Once Veerata was seated, the festivities began. Beautiful and elegant courtesans performed elaborate dances. The food brought before him seemed fit for the Emperor himself. For a time, he tried to enjoy the occasion. Soon, the pain felt like it was slowly devouring his senses. Only his friend and trusted physician, Vidyuta, knew what he was going through. The young doctor sat apart at the other end of the hall. Veerata could feel his watchful eyes following his every movement. Vidyuta was six years older than Veerata with a fair, bronze-coloured complexion and short, dark brown hair. Like most physicians, he sported a trimmed beard and moustache. He also wore a blue cummerbund with his off-white, doctor’s attire. Beaded danglers in his ears and gold wrist bangles were the only jewellery on his person.
Veerata often saw guilt in his friend’s eyes. Vidyuta had tried his best but was unable to provide anything better than herbal pain relievers. Ashamed at not finding a permanent cure, the young doctor made it his life’s purpose to follow his friend everywhere in an effort to avert further crisis. It was a miracle that gangrene had not set in all this time. Veerata neither complained nor reproached him. His only reminder to Vidyuta was to keep his medical condition a secret from everyone else.
Having fulfilled his duties for two hours in the banquet hall, the young general rose and excused himself. Brahmadatta ordered his servants to lead Veerata to the guest room. Vidyuta and the others followed their leader out of the hall. Veerata dismissed them all to their own rooms as soon as they reached the quest wing. Vidyuta offered to brew a fresh batch of pain relievers right away. Veerata smiled and shook his head. He had enough reserves of the concoction in his luggage. In silence, he turned, opened the door and walked into his bedroom.