Farther to the south, Ganesh had anchored his ships and tied them together, across the river in rows of ten. Another line-up was just behind the first level of the blockade ships. Behind these, five fast-moving cutters would patrol the river farther downstream to attack any Ayodhyans who attempted to escape. Thus, any Ayodhyan ship attempting to run the river blockade had to battle through a thick line of twenty enemy ships and five quick cutters.
The forest around Ayodhya had been cleared by the defending army to give it a clear line of sight in case of an attack. Prasanjit, the Meluhan brigadier who had been left behind by Bhrigu, had tried hard to convince the Ayodhyans to extend the clearing area farther, but he had been unsuccessful. Ganesh had got his troops to cut a second line of trees beyond the clearing, as a precautionary fire line. Once the outer fire line had been established, Ganesh had ordered that the trees within the two clearings be set aflame. The intense heat generated would have resulted in the collapse of any tunnels around Ayodhya that could have served as passages for food to be smuggled into the city. The fire had burned for four continuous days and had had a demoralising effect on the citizens of ‘the impenetrable city’, establishing the steely resolve of their blockaders.
A cataract on a sheer cliff to the north of Ayodhya served as a natural barrier, which prevented ships from navigating farther north on the Sarayu. The Ayodhyans had built a channel into their walled shipyard just short of the cataract. The singular narrow channel of entry had been designed to be easily defendable. While this channel, passing through a gated wall, protected the Ayodhyan shipyard, it also allowed the enemy to block the exit route of their ships. Ganesh had used the leftover logs from the forest clearing to block this channel, effectively extending the siege of the city to the shipyard as well. All he had wanted was to box them in, and blocking the channel had ensured that he did not have to divert too many ships to blockade the shipyard.
Ganesh had known that the Meluhans had set up a bird courier system for the Ayodhyans. He had hit upon a very simple strategy to destroy this. He had placed six hundred archers on various treetops outside Ayodhya and along the Sarayu. These archers worked in eight-hour shifts, changing three times a day, maintaining a continuous twenty-four hour vigil. The orders had been very simple: shoot any and every bird that they saw in the sky. Most of these dead birds were retrieved by trackers. In doing so, not only did they retrieve messages exchanged between Meluha and Ayodhya, but the dead pigeons and other game birds were also a source of fresh meat for the soldiers.
Ayodhya drew fresh drinking water from the Sarayu through channels that extended from the river to within the city walls. The channels were fed by ingeniously designed giant water wheels constructed along the Sarayu. These wheels used the flow of the river to rotate. A series of buckets tied around the diameter would fill up with water and disgorge into the channels as they reached the top. Tall walls had been built around the wheels to protect them from any attack. However, there was a breach in the wall just below the water surface, from where the buckets filled up with water. This opening was fortified with bronze bars that were wide enough to allow water to run through, but not so wide as to allow a man to swim in between. But that hadn’t stopped Ganesh.
Ganesh had deployed soldiers to swim across the Sarayu at night pulling small, floating wooden barrels. Within these barrels were smaller iron cans filled with oil. Water in the space between the wooden barrel and the iron can, and a slow fuse made of hemp, completed the device. Once lit, the fuse would ignite the oil, bringing the water to a boil. The consequent pressure of escaping steam would cause an explosion with the iron and wood themselves serving as shrapnel. The task of the skilled swimmers had been to strategically place the devices within the buckets of the water wheels, thus destroying them. The existing wells of Ayodhya could never quench the thirst of its innumerable residents.
Ganesh had allowed a small number of non-combatant women and priests to come out of the city every day, to draw small amounts of water for personal use. He had also ordered that this number be progressively reduced every day until the Ayodhyans surrendered. It was a slow squeeze designed to ultimately make the people rise against their leaders. Ganesh’s soldiers had added to the psychological warfare by berating the emerging Ayodhyans for going against the wishes of their Neelkanth and siding with Meluha. They had been informed that the only reason why Ganesh had refrained from shooting missiles into Ayodhya was so as not to harm innocent citizens who had had nothing to do with the decision of their emperor, Dilipa.
The daily two-way traffic of some Ayodhyans had also served another important purpose. It had enabled the hidden Vasudev pandit of the Ramjanmabhoomi temple to send an emissary to Ganesh with information collected from all the Vasudev pandits from across the temples of India.
After a couple of weeks, Ganesh had offered to send Bhagirath to meet with the nobles of his father’s kingdom to reach a mutually acceptable compromise. The opportunity had been instantly grabbed by the Ayodhyans.
Ganesh stretched his tired muscles and glanced at Kartik and Chandraketu seated beside him in the cabin. They also had hardly slept but masked their exhaustion and continued to peruse the documents. Ganesh smiled to himself. When this is done, he thought, we’re all going to lock ourselves in our cabins and sleep for a week!
There was the sound of footsteps and a brief knock at the cabin door before it was pushed open. Bhagirath bowed slightly to Ganesh, his hair slightly ruffled from the wind, before entering to take a seat with the three men.
‘What news, Bhagirath?’ asked Ganesh, pushing the pile of messages to one side.
‘I’m afraid it’s not good.’
‘Really?’ asked Chandraketu. ‘I thought the Ayodhyan army must be deeply divided. I cannot think of another reason why we were able to lay siege on the city so easily. No skirmishes, no guerrilla attacks, nothing. It could only mean that the army doesn’t intend to fight.’
Bhagirath shook his head. ‘You don’t know Ayodhya, King Chandraketu. It was not the cowardice of their army but the indecisiveness of their nobility which worked in our favour. They have not been able to agree on the best way to attack us. Furthermore, Maharishi Bhrigu had brought in a Meluhan brigadier, Prasanjit, to oversee the Ayodhyan war preparations. All it achieved was further divisions within the city. By the time they agreed upon a strategy, we were already in control of the river. There was not much that they could do after that.’
‘So?’ asked Ganesh. ‘Haven’t their troubles opened the eyes of some at least?’
‘No,’ said Bhagirath. ‘There is tremendous confusion within the city. Many Ayodhyans are fanatical devotees of Lord Shiva and are certain that the Neelkanth will not harm them. They refuse to believe that he has ordered this attack. This blind devotion seems to be working against us.’
‘So who do they think has ordered this attack?’ asked Chandraketu.
‘Seeing the number of Brangas in the army, they think that it is you,’ said Bhagirath.
Chandraketu raised his hands. ‘Why would I attack Ayodhya?’
‘They believe that Branga wants to be the overlord of Swadweep,’ said Bhagirath. ‘In the absence of Lord Shiva, there is nothing we can do to convince them otherwise. There are a few who do believe in the proclamation that was put up, but they are in a minority. They are outshouted by a very simple logic: “We have never used the Somras, so why would the Neelkanth attack us? He should attack Meluha.” Of course, a few members of the nobility do use the Somras, but the people do not know that.’