Shiva’s cavalry rode hard, in a great arc around the main battlefront. He could see the Vasudev elephants and the Meluhan chariots clashing on his right. Practically decimated, the chariots could not ride out to meet the new threat from the cavalry. Shiva rode fast, unchallenged, till he reached the unprotected rear of the Meluhan tortoise formations.
‘Jai Shri Ram!’ thundered Shiva.
‘Har Har Mahadev!’ bellowed his cavalry, kicking their horses hard.
Shiva’s three thousand strong cavalry charged into the Meluhans. Locked into their formation as they faced the opposite side, weighed down by immensely heavy spears, they were unable to turn around. Shiva’s mounted soldiers cut through the Meluhan tortoise corps, hacking away with their long swords. Within moments of this brutal attack, the Meluhan formations started breaking. Some soldiers surrendered while others simply ran away. By the time Vidyunmali, who was fighting at the head of his army, received the news of the decimation of his troops towards his rear, it was already too late. The Meluhans had been outflanked and defeated.
The Neelkanth Speaks
The survivors had been disarmed and chained together in groups. The chains had been fixed into stakes buried deep in the ground. They were surrounded by four divisions of Shiva’s finest. It was well nigh impossible for them to escape. Ayurvati had commandeered the outer port area and created a temporary hospital. The injured, of both the Meluhan as well as Shiva’s armies, were being treated.
Shiva squatted next to a low bed where Sati had just received a quick surgery. The wound on her shoulder would heal quickly but the thigh injury would take some time. Kali and Gopal stood at a distance.
‘I’m all right,’ said Sati, pushing Shiva away. ‘Go to Mrittikavati. You need to take control of the city quickly. They need to see you. You need to calm them down. We don’t want skirmishes breaking out between the citizens of Mrittikavati and our army.’
‘I know. I know. I’m going,’ said Shiva. ‘I just needed to check on you.’
Sati smiled and pushed him once again. ‘I’m fine! I will not die so easily. Now go!’
‘Didi is right,’ said Kali. ‘We need to do a flag march within the precincts of the city and cow them down.’
A surprised Shiva turned around. ‘We are not taking our army into the city.’
Kali flailed her hands in exasperation. ‘Then why did we conquer the city?’
‘We haven’t conquered the city. We’ve only defeated their army. We need to get the citizens of Mrittikavati on our side.’
‘On our side? Why?’
‘Because we will then be free to sail out of here with our entire army. We have ten thousand prisoners of the Meluhan army. Do you want to commit our soldiers to guarding prisoners of war? If Mrittikavati comes to our side, we can keep the Meluhan army imprisoned in the city itself.’
‘They’re not going to do that, Shiva. In fact, if they see any weakness in us, they will sense an opportunity to rebel.’
‘It’s not weakness, Kali, but compassion. People usually know the difference.’
‘You’ve got to be joking! How in God’s name are you going to show compassion after massacring their army?’
‘I will do it by not marching into the city with my army. I will go there only with Bhadra, Nandi and Parshuram. And I will speak to the citizens.’
‘How will that help?’
‘You have just destroyed their army, Shiva! I don’t think they would be interested in listening to anything you have to say.’
‘They will be. I am their Neelkanth.’
Kali could barely contain her irritation. ‘At least let me accompany you along with some Naga soldiers. You may need some protection.’
‘Do you trust me?’
‘What does that have to...’
‘Kali, do you trust me?’
‘Of course I do.’
‘Then let me handle this,’ concluded Shiva, before turning to Sati. ‘I’ll be back soon, darling.’
Sati smiled and touched Shiva’s hand.
‘Go with Lord Ram, my friend,’ said Gopal, as Shiva rose and turned to leave.
Shiva smiled. ‘He’s always with me.’
A collective buzz of a thousand voices hovered over the central square as the citizens of Mrittikavati came in droves for a glimpse of their Neelkanth. News of his presence in the city had spread like wildfire.
Was it the Neelkanth who attacked us?
Why would he attack us?
We are his people! He is our God!
Was it really him who banned the Somras and not a fraud Neelkanth? Did our Emperor lie to us? No, that cannot be...
Shiva stood tall on the stone podium, surveying the milling, excitable crowd. He allowed them to have a clear view of his uncovered blue throat, the neel kanth. Unarmed as ordered, Nandi, Veerbhadra and Parshuram stood apprehensively behind him.
‘Citizens of Mrittikavati,’ thundered Shiva. ‘I am your Neelkanth.’
Whispers hummed through the square.
‘Silence!’ said Nandi, raising his hand, quietening the audience immediately.
‘I come from a faraway land deep in the Himalayas. My life was changed by what I had believed was an elixir. But I was wrong. This mark I bear on my throat is not a blessing from the gods but a curse of Evil, a mark of poison. I carry this mark,’ said Shiva, pointing to his blue throat. ‘But my fellow Meluhans, you bear this scourge as well! And you don’t even know it!’
The audience listened, spellbound.
‘The Somras gives you a long life and you are grateful for that. But these years that it gifts to you are not for free! It takes away a lot more from you! And its hunger for your soul has no limit!’
A sinister breeze rustled the leaves of the trees that lined the square.
‘For these few additional transient years you pay a price that is eternal! It is no coincidence that so many women in Meluha cannot bear children. That is the curse of the Somras!’
Shiva’s words found ready resonance in Meluhan hearts, many of which had been broken by the long lonely wait for children from the Maika adoption system. They knew the misery of growing old without a child.
‘It is no coincidence that the mother of your country, the mother of Indian civilisation itself, the revered Saraswati is slowly drying to extinction. The thirsty Somras continues to consume her waters. Her death will also be due to the evil of the Somras!’
The Saraswati River was not just a body of water to most Indians; in fact, no river was. And the Saraswati was the holiest among them all. It was their spiritual mother.
‘Thousands of children are born in Maika with painful cancers that eat up their bodies. Millions of Swadweepans are dying of a plague brought on by the waste of the Somras. Those people curse the ones who use the Somras. They are cursing you. And your souls will bear this burden for many births. That is the evil of the Somras!’
Veerbhadra looked at Shiva’s back and then at the audience.
Shiva felt his blue throat and smiled sadly. ‘It may appear that the Somras has my throat. But in actual fact, it has all of Meluha by the throat! And it is squeezing the life out of you slowly, so slowly, that you don’t even realise it. And by the time you do, it will be too late. All of Meluha, all of India, will be destroyed!’