the oath of the vayuputras - Page 69

‘Shields!’ shouted Sati. ‘Incoming arrows!’

But the archers were too far. They had clearly overestimated the wind. The arrows barely reached Sati’s forces. The strong wind, though advantageous for the Meluhans, was not working to Sati’s benefit. She couldn’t reply to the Meluhan volley of arrows in kind with her own archers. She saw the Meluhans inch closer, lugging ox-drawn carts behind the archers. In all her years, Sati had never seen ox-drawn carts being used in warfare.

Sati frowned. What in Lord Ram’s name can oxen do against elephants? What is Pitratulya doing?

Sati was clear that she did not want to test General Parvateshwar’s strategy today. It was admittedly tempting because this small contingent would be wiped out in minutes if she sent her elephants. However, she smelt a trap and did not want to leave the high ground. She knew what had to be done: hold position till Shiva returned. She did not want to fight. Not today.

Having moved even closer, the Meluhan archers loaded their arrows again.

‘Shields!’ ordered Sati.

This time the arrows hit the shields at the right end of Sati’s formation. Having tested the range, the Meluhan archers moved once again.

The Meluhans probably have some secret weapon that they are not absolutely sure about. The ox-drawn carts may have some role to play in it. They want to provoke some of my men into charging at them so that they can test their weapon.

The upshot was obvious. If her army refused to get provoked, no battle would take place. All the animals in her army were well-armoured. The soldiers had massive shields, prepared in defence for the very arrow attack that the Meluhans were attempting right now. Despite two showers of arrows, her army had not suffered a single casualty. There was nothing to gain by breaking formation. And, nothing to lose by staying in formation.

Sati also figured that since the enemy had already come close, ordering her own archers to shoot arrows now may prove counter-productive. The ox-drawn carts were not manned. A volley of arrows may well drive the animals crazy, making them charge in any direction, perhaps even at her own army, along with whatever evil they carried in the carts. She had a better idea. She instructed her messengers to tell a cavalry squad to ride out from behind the hill she was positioned on, thus hiding their movement, and go around to an adjoining hill towards the west. She wanted them to launch a flanking attack from behind the crest of that hill, surprise and decimate the Meluhan archers as well as drive the oxen away. All she had to do was wait for the Meluhans to move a little closer to her position. Then, she could have them blind-sided with her cavalry charge.

Sati shouted out her orders once again. ‘Be calm! Hold the line! They cannot hurt us if we remain in formation.’

The Meluhan archers, having moved closer, arched their bows and fired once again.

‘Shields!’

Sati’s army was ready. Though the arrows reached right up to the centre of her army, not one soldier was injured. The Meluhans held their bows to their sides and prepared to draw nearer once again, this time a little tentatively.

They’re nervous now. They know their plan is not working.

‘What the hell!’ growled an angry Vasudev elephant-rider as he turned to his partner. ‘They are a puny brigade with oxen, against our entire army. Why doesn’t General Sati allow us to attack?’

‘Because she is not a Vasudev,’ spat out the partner. ‘She doesn’t know how to fight.’

‘My Lords,’ said the mahout to the riders, ‘our orders are to follow the General’s orders.’

The Vasudev turned in irritation to the mahout. ‘Did I ask you for your opinion? Your order is to only follow my orders!’

The mahout immediately fell silent as the distant shout of the brigadier’s herald came through. ‘Shields!’

Another volley of arrows. Again, no casualties.

‘Enough of this nonsense!’ barked one of the elephant-riders. ‘We’re Kshatriyas! We’re not supposed to cower like cowardly Brahmins! We’re supposed to fight!’

Sati saw a few elephants on the far right of her formation, the ones that were the closest to the Meluhan brigade, begin to rumble out.

‘Hold the line!’ shouted Sati. ‘Nobody will break formation!’

The messengers carried forward the orders to the other end of the field immediately. The elephants were pulled back into formation by their mahouts.

‘Nandi,’ said Sati, looking down. ‘Ride out to that end and tell those idiots to remain in formation!’

‘Yes, My Lady,’ said Nandi, saluting.

‘Wait!’ said Sati, as she saw the Meluhan archers loading another set of arrows. ‘Wait out this volley and then go.’

The order of ‘shields!’ was relayed again and the arrows clanged harmlessly against the raised barriers. None of Sati’s soldiers were injured.

As Sati put her shield down and looked up, she was horrified. Twenty elephants on the right had charged out recklessly.

‘The fools!’ yelled Sati, as she jumped onto her horse from the platform.

She galloped forward to cover the breach opened up by the recklessly charging elephants, closely followed by Veerbhadra and Nandi. While passing by the cavalry line, she ordered the reserve cavalry to follow her. Within a few minutes, Sati had stationed herself in the position left open by the Vasudev elephants that had charged out of formation.

‘Stay here!’ Sati ordered the soldiers behind her as she raised her hand.

She could see her elephants sprinting forward in the distance, goaded on by their mahouts, bellowing loudly. The Meluhan archers stood their ground bravely and shot another round.

The order resonated through Sati’s army. ‘Shields!’

The Vasudev elephant-riders screamed loudly as they crashed into the archers. ‘Jai Shri Ram!’

The elephants swung their powerful trunks, tied to which were strong metallic balls. Meluhan soldiers were flung far and wide with the powerful swings. The few who remained were crushed under giant feet. Within just a few moments of this butchery, the archers began retreating.

Though it appeared as if the twenty Vasudev elephants were smashing the Meluhan archers to bits, Sati shuddered with foreboding as she felt a chill run down her spine. She screamed loudly, even though she knew that the elephant-riders couldn’t hear her.

‘Come back, you fools!’

The Vasudev elephant-riders though, were on a roll. Encouraged by the easy victory, they goaded their mahouts to keep the elephants moving forward.

‘Charge!’

The elephant-riders primed their main weapon, pulling the levers on the flame throwers. Long, spear-like flames burst forth from the howdahs. The riders positioned the weapon, aiming for maximum effect as they crashed into the next line of Meluhans.

The elephants continued dashing forward, seeing the ox-drawn carts farther ahead. And then the tide turned. The retreating Meluhan archers spun around with arrows that had been set on fire, aiming straight for their own carts. The dry and volatile dung cakes on the carts had been mixed with chilli, and caught fire immediately. The startled oxen, sensing the blaze somewhere behind them, ran forward in panic, towards the advancing elephants.

It was the mahouts who had the first inkling that something was wrong. Attuned deeply to the beasts, they could sense their innate distress. Goaded on by the fiery elephant-riders behind them though, they continued to press their elephants ahead. Soon the contents on the carts were completely aflame, letting out a thick, acrid smoke. But the elephant-riders were too committed to the charge. They rode straight into the blinding smoke.