‘Lothal is not too far away. Also, it’s a border town. It is the closest Meluhan city from Panchavati. It may not be such a bad idea to reinforce it.’
Battle of Mrittikavati
The exhausted scout stumbled into the military tent, barely able to conceal his anxiety. Shiva jerked his head up from the map he’d been poring over, as the soldier managed a hasty salute. ‘What?’
Shot like an arrow, Shiva’s voice made Kali, Sati, Gopal and Chenardhwaj look up too, worry creasing their faces. Shiva’s army had marched in quickly from Lothal and was just a day away from Mrittikavati.
‘My Lord, I have bad news.’
‘Give me the facts. Don’t jump to conclusions.’
‘Mrittikavati is much better defended now than it had been earlier. Brigadier Vidyunmali sailed into the city a few days back. Apparently, he was on his way to Lothal to strengthen Meluha’s defences at the border. Clearly, Emperor Daksha has no idea as yet that Lothal has pledged loyalty to you, My Lord.’
‘How many men does Vidyunmali have?’ asked Chenardhwaj.
‘Around twenty thousand, My Lord. Added to which are the five thousand soldiers already stationed at Mrittikavati.’
‘We’re still at a substantial advantage in terms of numbers, My Lord,’ said Chenardhwaj. ‘But Mrittikavati’s defences can make even twenty-five thousand men seem like a lot.’
Shiva shook his head. ‘I don’t think that should be a problem. It doesn’t matter how many soldiers they have. We just want to commandeer their ships, not conquer their city. If Vidyunmali has sailed with twenty thousand soldiers, his transport ships would also be in the Mrittikavati port, right? So there are even more ships for us to capture.’
Kali smiled. ‘That’s true!’
‘Prepare to march to Mrittikavati,’ said Shiva. ‘We attack in two days.’
Shiva could see the panic-stricken people rush back into the city as the warning conches were blown repeatedly from the ramparts of Mrittikavati. The unexpected appearance of a massive enemy force had shocked the Meluhans.
Atop his horse at a vantage point on the hill, Shiva could clearly see the city of Mrittikavati and its port. Like most Meluhan cities, it had also been built on a massive platform a kilometre away from the Saraswati, as a protection against floods. But it was the port, obviously built on the banks of the great river, which fascinated Shiva.
The circular harbour was massive, with the waters of the Saraswati going into it through a narrow opening. A semi-circular dock was separated by a pool of water from the outer ring of the port. A dome-covered inner dock protected the various repair yards. Ships were anchored along the outer side of the inner dock and the inner side of the outer pier. This ingenious design could hold nearly fifty ships in a relatively small space. The expanse of water between the two parallel circles of ships allowed for free movement of the vessels. The ships could move fairly quickly within the harbour in a single file. Being relatively small, the harbour gate afforded the entry or exit of only one ship at a time. But considering that ships could tail each other in the circular channel within the port, the narrow gate did not affect the speed at which the ships could enter or leave the port. However, it did allow for effective defence against enemy ships. The gate was shut and Shiva could see the numerous points across the harbour walls from where a defence could be mounted.
Shiva smiled. Typically foolproof Meluhan planning.
Kali leaned across to Shiva. ‘The fortified pathway between the city and the port may be a weakness.’
‘Yes,’ said Sati. ‘Let’s attack from there. If we succeed in making them feel vulnerable, they will be forced to shut the gates of the city that lead to this pathway, and pull their soldiers within. The city and the port are not next to each other, which means they will have to sacrifice one or the other if the pathway walls are breached. I would imagine they would compromise and give up the port.’
Shiva looked at Sati. ‘Vidyunmali is aggressive. He doesn’t like to make compromises. Once he realises that we are after their ships and not the city itself, he may take a gamble. He may choose to step out of the city and mount a rearguard assault on our attacking forces. That may appear like a sensible choice to him. He may think that he can rout us on the pathway, thus saving both the port and the city. I hope he makes that mistake.’
Shiva rode up and down the line of his all-inclusive army, consisting of Brangas, Vasudevs, Nagas and some Suryavanshis from Lothal. Sati and Kali were on horseback, leading their sections of the army. The soldiers were ready but knew that the Meluhans were well fortified.
‘Soldiers!’ roared Shiva. ‘Mahadevs! Hear me!’
Silence descended on the men.
‘We’re told a great man walked this earth a thousand years ago. Lord Ram, Maryada Purushottam, the most celebrated amongst the kings. But we know the truth! He was more than a man! He was a God!’
The soldiers listened in pin-drop silence.
‘These people,’ said Shiva, pointing to the Meluhans stationed on the fort walls of Mrittikavati, ‘only remember his name. They don’t remember his words. But I remember the words of Lord Ram. I remember he had said: “If you have to choose between my people and dharma, choose dharma! If you have to choose between my family and dharma, choose dharma! Even if you have to choose between me and dharma, always choose dharma!”’
‘Dharma!’ bellowed the army in one voice.
‘The Meluhans have chosen Evil,’ bellowed Shiva. ‘We choose dharma!’
‘They have chosen death! We choose victory!’
‘They have chosen the Somras!’ roared Shiva. ‘We choose Lord Ram!’
‘Jai Shri Ram!’ shouted Sati.
‘Jai Shri Ram!’ Kali joined the war cry.
‘Jai Shri Ram!’ shouted all the soldiers.
‘Jai Shri Ram!’
‘Jai Shri Ram!’
The familiar cry from the Neelkanth’s army reverberated within the walls of Mrittikavati; it was a cry that usually charged the Meluhans. But this time it infused fear.
Shiva turned to Kali, surrounded by the roars of his warriors, and nodded at her. A small cold smile curved Kali’s lips and she nodded in return, her eyes glittering, and swung her sword so it flashed in the sun. Then she raised a single hand to the soldiers behind her, and a wave of silence rolled out across the army until all that could be heard was the wind snapping at the banners flying above their heads. She signalled again and the men tensed and readied their weapons. Then she raised one sword, pointed towards the sky, and with a blood-curdling scream, brought her blade forward to unleash a roaring tide of men at the walls.
Shiva keenly observed the battle raging in a narrow section of the fortified pathway. Kali was engaged in making repeated assaults with the Vasudev elephants and makeshift catapults, concentrating all resources on breaching one small section. A small number of exceptionally brave Naga soldiers fought against daunting odds as the Meluhans shot arrows and poured boiling oil from the battlements that lined the pathway. Famed for their superhuman courage, the Nagas were ideal for this battle of attrition. Small breaches began opening up on the pathway walls; Shiva’s soldiers would soon be able to block the city’s access to its port. This triggered the reaction that Shiva expected from Vidyunmali. The main gates of Mrittikavati were thrown open and the Meluhans marched out, arranged in a formation that they had learnt from Shiva himself.