Book 2 | Chapter 33 | Lotus Feet

There are only two forms of sculpture that have impressed me – the Natarajar sculptures of our Chozhanaadu, and the Buddhas of Lanka.

At the crack of dawn, the next morning, the Prince, Vandhiyathevan and Nambi left the camp and moved towards Anuradhapuram. After following a forest trail for a little while, they hit the Rajapaattai. The Prince had not brought any guards with him for protection.

Vandhiyathevan was feeling on top of the world. He had finished the work that the Princess had given him. Also, his long-time wish of meeting the Prince had come true. And had he just met the Prince? He had even befriended him. He recollected the events of the previous day. He was so friendly with his troops. He was still surprised to see the unaffected common man in this war zone. He reflected upon the differences between the war strategy of the brutal Aditya Karikalan and the benevolent strategy of Arulmozhi Varman.

When they were nearing Anuradhapuram, the Prince stopped his horse near a large Buddha statue. This whole island had so many such beautiful and large Buddha statues that Vandhiyathevan had by now stopped paying attention to them. The Prince got off his horse and went and stood near the Buddha statue. Vandhiyathevan got off his horse as well. Alwarkadiyaan Nambi, who was riding a little ahead, turned his horse around and came close to the statue.

“Aha, what a sculpture,” exclaimed the Prince.

“I do not understand what is so special about this sculpture. There are a hundred similar ones all over this place,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“I like the fact that you always speak your mind.”

“There are only two forms of sculpture that have impressed me – the Natarajar sculptures of our Chozhanaadu, and the Buddhas of Lanka. After having seen the sizes of some of these Buddha statues and the Viharas, I sometimes feel ashamed of our small Shiva temples. In yesteryears, there lived some great Lankan kings. Their kingdoms might have been small, but their hearts and devotion to their God were big. They expressed their devotion through these big Buddha sculptures and Viharas.”

The Prince went close to the Buddha statue, and looked closely at the padma paadam (holy feet) and the lotus flowers that were placed near the feet. He touched the feet, prayed for a moment, and got back on to his horse.

When the three of them had started riding, Vandhiyathevan exclaimed, “Nambiyaare, I am afraid the Prince has fully converted to Buddhism.”

The Prince heard Vandhiyathevan’s comment and responded, “I do have a place in my heart for this religion too. Buddha gave me an important message.”

“But, we did not hear anything.”

“The flowers near the Buddha’s feet told me to come to the Simhathar Lake in Anuradhapuram at exactly midnight.”

Book 2 | Chapter 32 | Where should I go?

I am reminded of an ancient poem about the fictitious elephant owned by one of my ancestors, Perunkilli Valavan. This elephant was supposed to have one leg in Lanka, one leg in Thanjavur, one in Kanchi, and the fourth in Urayur (present day Trichy).

The play ended. Dinner was ready. The feast was served to the soldiers. The Prince wandered around and spoke to the soldiers. He enquired about their health and their families. He answered their questions and addressed their concerns. Vandhiyathevan realised why the entire kingdom loved and respected this man so much. The soldiers felt immense love and respect for their Prince.

The soldiers were getting a little antsy with the inaction and asked him when and where the next battle would be. The Prince responded by telling them to wait out the rainy season.

After the meal, the Prince excused himself and went towards the tent that was set up for him. He took Vandhiyathevan and Alwarkadiyaan Nambi with him.

“Did you see the enthusiasm of these soldiers? If only Thanjavur had cooperated, we would have finished operations in Lanka by now. But now, we have to wait out the next three months for the rainy season to pass.”

Nambi responded, “Sire, I am surprised you are worried about the situation here, whereas the situation in the mainland is graver. The great Chozha Kingdom established by Vijayalaya Chozhan and expanded immensely by Paranthaka Chozhan and Sundara Chozhan is in danger of disintegrating into bits and pieces.

“Hmm. That is true. Both of you bring important messages. Let me hear them. Vandhiyatheva – please start.”

And Vandhiyathevan started his story. He narrated every incident since the day he left from Kanchi, to when he visited Kadambur, Thanjavur, Pazhayarai, and then now to Lanka. He spoke about every conversation he heard, every plot that he came to know of, every danger he had faced, and how he had escaped. He ended by telling the Prince about how worried Princess Kundavai was, about this whole situation. He also reiterated her request for him to come back to the mainland for the sake of the Kingdom.

Nambi then started talking about his travels. Several of the incidents that he had been through corroborated with what Vandhiyathevan had just talked about. Nambi also talked about the midnight meeting at Thiruppurambiyam Pallippadai. He ended his narration with the Chief Minister’s advice of not endangering himself by coming to the mainland.

“He suggests a temporary pausing of expansion efforts in Lanka, and asks you to consolidate the Tamizh forces in Lanka, in one place. He says that there will be a time very soon when the conspirators will come into the open. At that time, this force would be very useful. He also tells you that several focus forces within the Kingdom, such as the Kaikolaar forces, are also waiting for that time.”

The irritated Prince shot back, “Thirumalai, what does your gurunaathar think? Does he think he is Chanakya or something? How dare he suggest that I fight against my own kinsmen?”

“Sire, that is not what the Chief Minister says. He says action needs to be taken against conspirators of treason in the country. And this should be done at the right time.”

“Even if that is so, why am I to be the person to punish them? Should that not be the Emperor himself?”

Vandhiyathevan said, “Ayya, the Emperor is being held hostage in his own palace. The Pazhuvettarayars are not letting anyone near him. He does not even have that liberty. Your elder brother seems to have taken a pledge never to come to Thanjavur. In this situation, is it not your duty to come to Pazhayarai and restore order?”

The Prince was lost in thought for a little while.

“Hmm. This mann aasai (desire for land) is a dangerous vice. Look at what it is making people do. Do you know the history of Simhagiri fort, which I visited today?”

Vandhiyathevan said, “I have not heard about it, Sire.”

“About 500 years ago, there used to be a king named Dhaadusenan. He had two sons – Kasyavan and Mahendan. Kasyavan and Dhaadusenan’s General conspired against the kingdom. Kasyavan imprisoned his own father and took over the throne. Mahendan escaped to India. Soon Kasyavan built a wall around where his father was imprisoned and killed him. Ridden with guilt and a fear that his brother would come back for revenge, Kasyavan built this powerful fort of Simhagiri on top of a mountain. He also built very strong fortifications around it.”

“Soon enough, Mahendan returned with the help of the Pandiya King. The foolish Kasyavan, in a moment of carelessness, came out in the open to fight the war, and lost his life. In that fort, where this tyrant lived, there are some beautiful paintings. These have been painted a few hundred years ago, but they still remain very well preserved. I had the good fortune of seeing these paintings when I visited with the Chinese travellers.”

Nambi asked politely, “Ayya, can I please ask you a question?”

“Of course, please ask.”

“From what I know, and what you have said until now, it looks like Simhagiri is still under the control of the Sinhalese army. In that situation, was it prudent of you to go into the fort with the Chinese travellers? Did you have to risk your life to do that?”

“Thirumalai, why should my life alone be so important, that it should not be risked? There are so many Chozha warriors here, who are risking their lives every day, for the sake of the Kingdom.”

“But, those warriors risk their lives in the battlefield…”

The Prince interrupted Nambi, “I had two reasons to go to Simhagiri. I had been desirous of seeing the paintings in the fort for a very long while, and that wish got fulfilled today.”

“And the second reason…”

“I knew that Parthibendra Pallavan had reached Lanka, the minute his ship shored on Trikonamalai harbour, but I did not wish to meet him immediately. I also got to know that the Chief Minister had come to Maathottam, and I was also expecting a message from him. If I get suggestions from two elders, it would only be proper of me to adhere to the wishes of the first person whom I meet.”

“According to that logic, my side wins.”

Nambi countered, “Ayya, this fellow is trying to fool you using logic.”

“Nambi, he did not have to fool me. I had noticed him overpower my man and get on to his horse. I wanted to bring him here and teach him a lesson.”

“Yes. It was a nice lesson. My back still hurts thinking about the lesson. Is this the way the Prince of Chozhanaadu treats a messenger with an official scroll? Anyway, I am at least glad that the Prince is leaning in favour of coming with me to Pazhayarai.”

The Prince said, “I am reminded of an ancient poem about the fictitious elephant owned by one of my ancestors, Perunkilli Valavan. This elephant was supposed to have one leg in Lanka, one leg in Thanjavur, one in Kanchi, and the fourth in Urayur (present day Trichy). This land of Lanka has so many wild elephants, but does not have that kind of an elephant.”

The three of them had a hearty laugh.

The Prince finally said – “Let us head to Anuradhapuram. I will meet Parthibendra Pallavan when we get there. Let me also hear what he has to say. And then I can make up my mind where to go.”

Book 2 | Chapter 31 | Dushtakamanu

The Prince came and sat on a tree stump in the centre. He was not wearing a beautiful gold crown, pearl necklaces, or dressed in fine silk. Vandhiyathevan and Nambi were sitting close to him. They were getting ready for an enactment of the tale of Elela Singhan.

There were about a thousand soldiers in the gathering. The commander was having a difficult time getting them in order. He was trying to get them to sit in a semi-circle. The army cooks were cooking up a feast, and the veritable smell of kootan-soru was making the soldiers drool. The Prince came and sat on a tree stump in the centre. He was not wearing a beautiful gold crown, pearl necklaces, or dressed in fine silk. Vandhiyathevan and Nambi were sitting close to him. They were getting ready for an enactment of the tale of Elela Singhan.

Around a thousand years before this time, a large Tamizh force had captured several parts of Lanka. The leader of the force at that time was a warrior named Elela Singhan. The Lankan king had been driven off to the forests in the mountains. The Lankan king’s son, Dushtakamanu, plotted from a very young age to recapture Lanka from Elela Singhan. The young prince gathered up a force and waged war against Elela Singhan. The small army was destroyed by the large Tamizh army. Dushtakamanu had then approached Elela Singhan and challenged him to a singular wrestling match. It would be a fight to the death, and the victor would get Lanka.

Elela Singhan, impressed by the bravery of this young prince, accepted the challenge. Intending to return Lanka to the young prince, Elela Singhan fought with a lesser intensity. He died and Dushtakamanu won back Lanka. They had raised a Pallippadai temple in honour of Elela Singhan.

The Chozha warriors enacted the story of Elela Singhan beautifully in front of the Prince. The actors performed brilliantly and the audience was held spellbound.

The Prince turned towards Nambi and asked, “Have you been to the beautiful cave temple of Thambalai? There is a painting in the cave, which describes this incident of Dushtakamanu so beautifully.”

“No, Sire. We did not have time to go to the cave temple. We saw you when we reached Thambalai. The temple will not go anywhere, but meeting you was of utmost importance. I guess we reached in the nick of time. On our way, we saw Parthibendran. It looked like he had been searching for you and had still not found you.”

“Yes, my Commander also told me that Parthibendran had come looking for me. I wonder why he was looking for me.”

“Of course, I know. Your brother Aditya Karikalan has sent him to bring you back to Kanchi.”

“Oho. And I am assuming you also know about the message that Vandhiyathevan has brought for me.”

“Yes, I do. He brought a message from your sister, Princess Kundavai, to bring you back to Pazhayarai. I was spying from the empty palace next door to her palace when all this happened.”

The Prince seemed a bit annoyed to hear this. “Chi, so you have started playing your dirty tricks on my sister too?”

“Oh, Prince, only because I knew this young man’s intention, he has reached. The troubles that I faced to make sure he reached here safely, is known only to Lord Buddha. If he had come through the usual route via Anuradhapuram, he would not be here with you today. “

“Oho. So, you came to Lanka, and all the way here, only with the single purpose of bringing this young man safely to me?”

“No, Sire. I bring a message too, from the Chief Minister Aniruddha Brahmaraayar. He feels that you should stay here in Lanka for a little more time, and feels that would be the best course of action for you.”

“Hmm. If three elders give me three contradicting directions, what am I to do?”

Vandhiyathevan responded, “Prince, you should do what your sister asked you to do. I tell you this, because, within you, your heart feels that you should always listen to what your sister says. Also, I have promised your sister that I would bring you back to Pazhayarai. So, I think that would be the best course of action.”

The Prince looked at Vandhiyathevan up and down and smiled.“I have been waiting so long for a brave companion and friend like you.”

Book 2 | Chapter 30 | Wrestling Match

Nambi got down from his horse, walked over to Vandhiyathevan, and whispered in his ear, “Appane, the scroll is currently with the person to whom it should be delivered.”

It was late evening. It was beginning to get dark. Vandhiyathevan was beginning to question Nambi’s motives. Where were they headed to? He hoped that he was not being led to some enemy camp. He had heard that the farthest that Chozha forces have been able to occupy was Thambalai. He could hear the constant sound of thundering hooves through the dark forest path. Thankfully, moonlight lit the path in front of them.

Suddenly Vandhiyathevan heard voices – sounds of celebration and cheering. He saw the lights of torches and a fire in the gathering. The horses stopped a little before the gathering. One of the horses turned quickly and headed towards Vandhiyathevan.

The warrior on the horse approached Vandhiyathevan and before he could realise, he threw a punch on his chin. Vandhiyathevan fell down but regained composure quickly. He threw a punch towards the warrior, who fell down. The two fell on each other and started wrestling. The warrior quickly removed Vandhiyathevan’s knife from his waist and threw it far away. It was now a fair fist fight. The two warriors rolled and fought. They kicked up a dust storm.

A crowd gathered around them. Within a few minutes, the warrior had overpowered Vandhiyathevan, had thrown him on the ground, and sat on his back. The warrior removed Vandhiyathevan’s waist cloth and the scroll within it. He got up, motioned to one of the two other riders to hold down Vandhiyathevan. The warrior walked over close to another, who was holding a torch and started reading the message.

“Nambiyaare, you are such a traitor. Get the scroll from him. I never should have trusted you as a companion. You are a coward too.”

Nambi got down from his horse, walked over to Vandhiyathevan, and whispered in his ear, “Appane, the scroll is currently with the person to whom it should be delivered.”

By this time, several others in the crowd had seen the warrior’s face in the light of the torch, and started recognising him.

Folks around started cheering, “Ponniyin Selvar, Vaazhga!” There was celebration all around and everyone surrounded the Prince, and heaped more praises on him.

“All of you, get back to the camp. Make arrangements for a feast,” said the Prince, and the crowd dissolved.

Vandhiyathevan looked at the Prince with wonder. He thought that the Prince had the good looks of Arjuna and the strength of Bhīma. He was in awe of this man. He felt privileged that he had gotten punched by this man.

Some readers might feel a little sad that the greatest of the great rulers – Prince Arulmozhi Varman – the man whose name is what inspired the name of this novel, the ruler who would bring so much praise to the Chozha kingdom, the King who would later be called Raja Rajan – has been introduced in such a normal fashion, without any royal fanfare. But then, this is the way he met our hero, Vandhiyathevan, and this is the way he had to make an appearance.

The Prince approached Vandhiyathevan with a smile on his face.

“Welcome, my friend. Welcome to the beautiful island of Lanka. You have come seeking the Chozha forces from so far away. Is this welcome suitable to you, or would you like something more celebratory?”

Vandhiyathevan got up with a jump and paid his respects by joining his hands and bowing to the Prince.

“I bow to you, my Prince. The welcome is very satisfactory to me. The scroll that I brought from the Princess has been delivered to you. Now it is up to you to decide what to do with me.”

“I see that the scroll has been written by my sister herself. Did she give it to you personally?”

“Yes, Sire. I had the distinct honour of receiving it personally from the Princess. I started immediately after, and reached here without even halting anywhere.”

“I can see that. Else, you would not have been able to come here so quickly. For someone who has done me such a big favour, I wonder what I can give in return.”The Prince walked towards Vandhiyathevan and embraced him tightly. Vandhiyathevan’s tiredness vanished in a moment. He felt like he was in heaven.

Book 2 | Chapter 29 | Thambalai

“The people here would not recognise him. Did you not notice that everyone’s attention – including yours – was on the Chinese travellers? I hear that he also went to several other ancient pilgrimage centres with these travellers – some deep into enemy territory.”

Simhagiri / Sigirya – img src:

About 2000 years ago, that is, about 1000 years before the time when this story happened, there was a king named Valaham Bahu. During his time too, Tamizh forces had invaded this land. Driven out of his kingdom, he hid in a cave in a nearby mountain called Thambalai (present day Dambulla). After a few months, he raised a force and recaptured Anuradhapuram.

He then went on to pay homage to Buddha in the cave that had given him protection. He got sculptors to sculpt all kinds and sizes of Buddha statues and placed them in the cave. For some reason, the sculptors never felt satisfied. They then went on to sculpt some Hindu Gods and placed them in between the Buddha statues. These beautiful carvings can still be found in the rock temples of Dambulla in Sri Lanka.

Vandhiyathevan felt refreshed when he saw the sights around. It was a typical pilgrimage centre. Pilgrims were buying fresh flowers from vendors and walking towards the cave temples. Several Buddhist monks in ochre robes were to be seen there.

“Vaishnavare, we just saw Parthibendran return from this place. So, I guess, the Prince is not here. Why are we here now?”

“Thambi, I still believe that the Prince is here somewhere. I will decide otherwise only after searching myself.”

Nambi went towards a vendor, asked him something, and returned.

“Nambiyaare, did you get any information?”

“Apparently they are expecting two Chinese travellers. That is why the town is abuzz with activity.”

“Where are they coming from?”

“They had gone to Simhagiri yesterday and are returning today. They must have gone to Simhagiri to see the beautiful cave paintings on top of the mountain fort there. Ah. Look!”

Vandhiyathevan looked in the direction that Alwarkadiyaan Nambi pointed. There was a majestically-decorated elephant trundling down the main road. There were two people in the ambari on top of the elephant. The people did look like the Chinese tourists. There was a mahout, leading the elephant.”

Vandhiyathevan and Nambi moved to the side of the street as the elephant passed them. Vandhiyathevan was indeed impressed with the devotion of these two tourists who had travelled so far to make this pilgrimage.

“Did you see what I saw?”

“Nambiyaare, I think I saw what you saw too.”

“What did you see?”

“The Chinese travellers had a flat face. Their clothes were very different from ours.”

“Humph. Did you see the mahout?”

“No. Why should I?”

Nambi shook his head. “Did you not see the roving eyes of the mahout? Did you not notice the glimpse of recognition when he saw us?”

“No. How would the mahout know us?”

“I do not know whether to point out your irresponsible nature, or of the beautiful Princess who gave you this important task. Come with me.”

They followed the gathering of people who followed the elephant, which came to a stop outside the main Buddha Vihara in the centre of the town. The two tourists went into the Vihara amidst the holy chants of “Buddham Charanam Gacchaami”. The entire crowd of people that had followed the elephant also went into the Vihara. The mahout walked over to some men in the side and handed over the elephant to one of them. He called out to another and pointed in the direction of Alwarkadiyaan Nambi and whispered something in his ear. The mahout and two others quickly turned into a nearby street and vanished.

The person to whom the mahout had whispered something, came over to Vandhiyathevan and Nambi.

“Are you willing to come with me?”

“I was waiting for you to call me.”

“Any identification?”

Nambi showed a ring with the Kodumbalur insignia.

“Please follow me.”

Vandhiyathevan and Nambi followed the man through a narrow forest path, which eventually led to a small clearing in the woods, where there was an old dilapidated mandapam. The man asked him to wait for a little while. He then climbed up a tree and started observing the path in which they had come.

“Nambiyaare, I do not understand one bit of what is going on.”

“You will soon know.”

Vandhiyathevan noticed two horses tied to the tree near where they were standing. He tried as much as possible to try and remember the face of the mahout, but could not remember anything. His attention had been on the Chinese travellers. He was getting a little worried.

“Nambiyaare, can you not tell me who the mahout was? Is it the Ponniyin Selvar?”

“I think so.”

“But I thought you said that Simhagiri was under the hold of the enemy?”

“Yes. I did say that. I would think that the Prince went to see the beautiful cave paintings of Simhagiri.”

“Is that not dangerous? Would not the people here recognise him?”

“The people here would not recognise him. Did you not notice that everyone’s attention – including yours – was on the Chinese travellers? I hear that he also went to several other ancient pilgrimage centres with these travellers – some deep into enemy territory.”

“Oh. I am pretty disappointed. Is that not very careless of a Prince? Is this the same Prince that the entire kingdom speaks so highly of? Is this the same guy that the Kudandhai Josiyar said would become the most powerful ruler in this part of the country?”

“Oh. Did the Josiyar say so?”

“Yes, he did. Do you believe in astrology?”

“No, I do not. I do not have a need to believe in astrology. I know it. If you interact with the Prince, you will feel it too.”

Suddenly, there was the sound of horses. The man on the look-out on the tree jumped down. He unleashed the horses and handed over the reins of one of the horses to Nambi, and got on to the other.

“Sir, very soon, there will be a few horses that will go by this path. We should follow the horses.”

Vandhiyathevan interrupted, “What about me?”

Ayya, I have orders only to bring this man.”

“I have a very important message for the Prince.”

Nambi responded, “Thambi, please be patient. I will go and make arrangements for someone to come and get you.”

“But, my message is very important, and needs to be delivered as soon as possible.”

“Then, give me the scroll. I will deliver it.”

“No. I cannot do that. I have orders to deliver it personally.”

Vandhiyathevan was also worried to let Nambi meet the Prince alone. He had instructions from the Kodumbalur General to keep an eye on him.

The sound of the horses grew very near. The two men got on to their horses and got ready to ride.

Soon three horses were visible. As the horses passed by, Vandhiyathevan pulled down the nearby man from his horse. Before anyone realised, he was on top of the horse and flew behind the three horses. Nambi followed close. The man screamed, unsheathed his knife and threw it at Vandhiyathevan. Vandhiyathevan ducked and rode with this body crouched close to the horse’s back. The horse was a good one. It flew with the wind.

Thambi, that was good work.”

But Vandhiyathevan did not respond.

They followed at a respectable distance behind the three horses through a narrow forest trail.

Book 2 | Chapter 28 | Rajapaattai

By sunset, they reached the Rajapaattai. There were many chariots and wagons of different kinds. There were people walking down the highway.

img src: srilankanvoyages.com

As the elephant charged at the Vaishnavar, Nambi threw his staff at the elephant’s face. Vandhiyathevan saw that the staff hit the elephant on its forehead. When Vandhiyathevan’s gaze returned to where Nambi was standing, he could not find the Vaishnavar. The elephant charged to where Nambi was standing before. Its front feet slipped on the loose sand, and with a loud roar, the elephant started slipping down the abyss.

The harder it tried to regain ground, the further it slipped down. It made one last attempt, but failed. The large animal slipped down the ravine. It let out an earth-shattering roar. It rolled down the steep slope crushing every plant and stone in its path.

Vandhiyathevan walked over to where it had slipped and saw this sight with astonishment. He felt sorry for the Vaishnavar. He was a good man and had been good company on this journey so far. It took a few minutes for the dust to settle, and Vandhiyathevan was still staring down the abyss.

Thambi, what are you still looking at? Give me a hand, will you?”

Vandhiyathevan jumped in shock. He looked towards the direction of the voice. He saw Nambi hanging from a stout root that stuck out of the ground a few feet away from where he was. Vandhiyathevan’s joy knew no bounds, and he quipped –

“Vaishnavare, it looks like, while Gajendran got his moksham, you are still hanging in Trishanku’s heaven in the middle. He untied his waist cloth and threw it out towards Nambi, who let go of the root and caught the cloth. The two soldiers and Vandhiyathevan pulled with all their might and got Nambi back on to terra firma.

Nambi heaved a big sigh and lay down for a bit to catch his breath. For a few minutes, the soldiers and Vandhiyathevan let Nambi relax.

Suddenly, Nambi got up with a start.

“Where is my staff? Let us go. We need to reach the Rajapaattai (highway) before it becomes dark.”

They heard the sound of a pack of wolves somewhere.

“The death of an elephant means supper for a large number of animals. They will descend on this area very soon. We need to hurry.”

The four of them hurried down the forest path. By sunset, they reached the Rajapaattai. There were many chariots and wagons of different kinds. There were people walking down the highway. There were also people who were riding on top of elephants. Vandhiyathevan had never seen something like this before and looked around with inquisitiveness.

“Nambi, where does this highway come from? And where does it head to?”

“This highway starts at Anuradhapuram and heads to Simhagiri. Thambalai is about an hour’s journey from here. We should stay the night there.”

“Couldn’t we have come through the highway all this while? We could have come here so much more comfortably.”

“Yes. We could have. We would have been stopped at a hundred security check posts. It would have taken us forever. I heard from someone that the person we are seeking was last seen near Simhagiri. That is why I brought you here through a shortcut.”

On either side of the Rajapaattai, there were several houses and shops. The people who inhabited these areas seemed to look like Sinhalese. There was heavy Chozha troop movement on the highway. The people, however, were going about their normal lives, without any fear of the Army.

“Nambiyaare, is this town with our troops or the enemy?”

“Up until Thambalai, it is under our control. I hear that areas around Simhagiri are still with Mahendran.”

“And the people here?”

“Most of them are Sinhalese. The Prince has been fighting the war in a very righteous manner. The war is only between the Sinhalese soldiers and the Chozha soldiers. The normal people are not to be affected in any way. That is the order from the Prince. The Buddhists here are also a very happy people now. The Prince is rebuilding several Buddhist Viharas that were damaged during the war. I am very upset with the Prince for doing this. I will definitely let him know my discontent.”

“Oh yes. You definitely should. How can the Prince do something that Nambi does not like?” said Vandhiyathevan sarcastically.

“The Prince, however, has this one singular power that no one else has. Whatever one might talk about him behind his back, when you go and meet him in person, you just melt in front of him. He has that power. The only person on this Earth, who does not get affected by his charm, is Princess Kundavai. Her wish is his command.”

“Oho, is that so? I thought you were talking about your sister, Nandini Devi.”

“Nandini also has some powers, but she is different from the Princess. When Princess Kundavai encounters a man, who is jumping into the fiery pits of hell, she would convince the man against it and show him the way to heaven. Nandini, on the other hand, would convince the man that he was actually jumping into heaven, and make him jump in with joy.”

Vandhiyathevan shuddered on hearing this analogy. He was surprised to see how well this Veera Vaishnavar knew about the enchanting powers of Nandini. He kept thinking about whether Nandini could really be Nambi’s sister. They walked on in silence for a while.

The silence was shattered by the sound of the hooves of four horses that approached from the opposite direction. The horses were galloping at a brisk canter. In a fleeting moment, when the horses passed, Vandhiyathevan recognised one of the riders – Parthibendran. Vandhiyathevan wondered what he was doing in Lanka at this time. Vandhiyathevan knew very well that Parthibendran did not like him too much.

After riding a little further, the horses came to a screeching halt and turned around. The riders slowly rode up towards Vandhiyathevan.

“Ade, look who is here. What a surprise to see you here? Last we heard was that you had magically disappeared from Thanjavur. I was thinking that the Pazhuvettarayars had finished you off.”

“It is not that easy for the Pazhuvettarayars to finish me off.”

“Oh yes. I know very well that you are a master of vanishing to save your life.”

“I know when to stay and fight, and when to run to save my own life. And if I do want to fight, I would rather fight Pallava warriors like you than fight people like the Pazhuvettarayars.”

Saying so, Vandhiyathevan pulled out his sword from his scabbard.

“Chi, I will not waste time fighting you, and that too in this faraway land. Anyway, what happened to the job that the Prince gave you?”

“The job is all done. I have delivered the scrolls to the Emperor and the Princess.”

“And what are you doing here now?”

“I have always wanted to visit Lanka. I met this Vaishnavar on the way, who offered to bring me here and show me around.”

Parthibendran looked at Nambi, “I seem to have seen this man also before.”

“It is very much possible, sir. I came to meet Prince Aditya Karikalan when I was searching for my sister. You were with the Prince when I came.”

“And who might your sister be?”

“The lady who is now the Queen of Pazhuvoor – Nandini Devi.”

“Aha. For all the treacherous work that she is doing now in the kingdom, I should ideally kill you, for being her brother.”

“Anyway, did you hear any news about the Prince? Has he reached Anuradhapuram?”

Nambi started, “We do not know anything about the Prince. We came by the forest route. En route, there was this mad elephant…”

“Stop. Enough of your rambling.”

Parthibendran and the other three men turned their horses and galloped away.

“Thambi, do you know any of the remaining three men with Parthibendran?” asked Nambi.

“No. I have not seen any of them before.”

“Hmm. I am not surprised that you have not seen them. I have seen two of them. I saw them at the Thiruppurambiyam Pallippadai. They were part of a bigger gang of men, and what a terrifying pledge they had taken, that day.”

“What did they pledge to do?”

“They pledged that they would get rid of the entire Chozha royal dynasty.”

Nambi shuddered thinking about that dark night.

“I wonder how these two got here before us. And I wonder how they got the company of this Pallava prince.”

Vandhiyathevan remembered the lighthouse keeper’s words in Kodikkarai. He had said two men had come the previous night, and had persuaded Poonkuzhali’s brother to take them to Lanka. These two might be the men. I wonder how Parthibendran is related to these two men.”

The four men were nearing the Buddhist pilgrimage centre of Thambalai.

Book 2 | Chapter 27 | Mad elephant

“Oh yes, General. I had half a dozen armed soldiers near the door for company. The house was large. And for dinner, they sent me a cat. Just when I was about to finish off the cat, this Veera Vaishnavan came and disturbed me. The cat, which was a staunch Shaivite did not like this man one bit, and scratched his skin and drew blood.”

Lankan Forest img source unsplash
Lankan Forest – img src unsplash photographer Sameera Thilakaratne

General Boodhi Vikrama Kesari, also known as the Kodumbalur Periya Velaar was a wise old man, who had seen many a war. He was one of the trusted generals of the Chozha Empire. After his younger brother had been killed in the war in Lanka, he had taken a particular interest in seeking revenge. This was one of the main reasons he was the General of the forces that were fighting in Lanka. We have also heard about the problems that were being created by the Pazhuvettarayars in sending supplies for the troops in Lanka. So, the generations-old rivalry between these two clans had only been increasing day-by- day.

It was no surprise that, given the rivalry between the Pazhuvoor and the Kodumbalur clans, the General had become incensed when he saw the palm tree insignia ring on Vandhiyathevan. It was only due to good fortune that Chief Minister Aniruddha Brahmaraayar had sent Nambi hurriedly to let the General know about the real reason why the Vaanar clan warrior was in Lanka. Nambi was a trusted messenger, and the Kodumbalur General had gotten the message.

When Nambi and Vandhiyathevan met the General, the latter tried to reconcile from the previous meeting.

Thambi, I hope you were treated well.”

“Oh yes, General. I had half a dozen armed soldiers near the door for company. The house was large. And for dinner, they sent me a cat. Just when I was about to finish off the cat, this Veera Vaishnavan came and disturbed me. The cat, which was a staunch Shaivite did not like this man one bit, and scratched his skin and drew blood.”

“Oho. It looks like this young man has a good sense of humour.”

“General, what he says is true. The cat did scratch me very violently. And yes, he does have a sense of humour. Apparently, his ancestors were poets. So, he retains some of their sense of imagination too.”

The General roared in laughter seeing the scratch marks on Nambi.

“If you cannot handle a small cat, how are you going to cross the jungle paths of Lanka? I am glad you are going to be taking this young man as your companion.”

“General, I do not require any companion. I forgot to take my wooden staff when I went there. That was the problem.”

“Ok. Then you should be the companion to this young man. Make sure you feed this young man a good meal before you leave.”

Thambi, try to have a decent meal before you leave. I apologise if the meal you get is not the best. That is all we can afford. Mahendran’s forces breached all the lakes and rivers before they left. All the crops are lost. The supplies coming in from the mainland are also neither regular nor sufficient.”

“I did hear this elsewhere as well, sir. I overheard some of the ladies in the army camp complaining to the Princess that their kin in Lanka were not getting enough supplies from the mainland.”

“Oho, so this information is known there as well. Good. And what did the Princess reply?”

“She reassured the ladies that, with the Kodumbalur General in power in Lanka, their men were in safe hands, and that they should not worry.”

The General smiled proudly.

“There is no one equal to our Princess in kindness and generosity.”

“There is one other person, General – the next Princess of the kingdom.”

“And who are you talking about now?”

“The Kodumbalur princess, of course.”

“How is Vanathi doing, young man?”

“She is doing very well, sir. She is an inseparable companion to the Princess. You can never see either of them without each other’s company.”

“I am very glad to hear this. Has the Princess given any message for me?”

“No, sir. But I will be honest with you. She has sent a message about Vanathi for Prince Arulmozhi, which I can relay only in person. I am not at liberty to share it with anyone else.”

The General smiled and hugged Vandhiyathevan.

“I have never seen such a smart warrior as you.”

“The two of you should not be wasting any further time. You should leave.”

“General, should this Veera Vaishnavar definitely accompany me? I would prefer to journey alone.”

Thambi, it would be better if the two of you travel together. It is difficult to track the Prince down. Also, Nambi carries a scroll for the Prince too.”

The General went close to Vandhiyathevan and whispered in his ear, “Thambi, do not worry about Nambi. He is a reliable person. But I would advise you to be careful, none the less. I would also like you to pay attention to the message that he delivers to the Prince, and let me know the same, once you return.”

Vandhiyathevan had originally thought that the General was sending Nambi as a spy along with him, but he now realised that it was quite the contrary – he was being sent as a spy with Nambi.

Vandhiyathevan and Nambi started on their journey that night with the company of two soldiers. They travelled eastwards for two days. Initially, they passed through a few towns. They passed through damaged embankments on rivers and lakes. Then slowly the path turned towards the forests.

Dense vegetation surrounded them. Nambi and Vandhiyathevan debated on the effects of war. Nambi was heavily anti-war, while Vandhiyathevan, warrior that he was, tried to justify the need for war. Then they turned southwards. The forests became deeper and denser. They were also rising in altitude. Along with the merry chirping of birds, they could occasionally hear the frightening sounds of wild animals too.

The knowledgeable Nambi was describing the kinds of animals that lived in these forests – elephants, jaguars, cheetahs, bears, and wolves. Nambi described how lone wolves and cheetahs hunted together in those jungles.

“Nambiyaare, I hear the sound of water gurgling somewhere. Is there a river nearby?”

“There must be. I am not sure. The sound you are hearing resembles a herd of elephants drinking water.”

“Isn’t it dangerous to get caught in the middle of a herd of wild elephants?”

“No. It is not. Elephants in herds are safe. You just need to step aside.” Meanwhile, one of the soldiers had climbed a tree to see what was going on.

“Ayyo, there is a lone mad elephant headed our way.”

Nambi got the jitters and screamed, “Run!”

“Nambiyaare, you said you were not worried about a herd of elephants, why are you afraid of a single elephant? There are three of us who have spears. You have a staff in your hand.”

“No. One can even manage a herd of elephants, but a lone mad elephant is more powerful than a thousand of your spears. It is very dangerous.”

As he spoke this, the elephant came into full view. It was charging towards them.

The four of them started running away from the elephant. After running a few steps, they realised that they were running towards the edge of a deep ravine. The soldiers and Vandhiyathevan darted to the sides towards the dense forest.

Vandhiyathevan turned back and saw Nambi standing rooted to the spot. It was a familiar sight. He stood swinging his staff and screaming, “Stop! Do not come near me. Stop!”

Book 2 | Chapter 26 | Veera Shaivite Cat

“She gave me an important task.”

“Which was.. ”

“To come here to Lanka and search for the Pandiya coronation crown and a bejeweled scepter. Apparently, it is hidden in some jungle here in Lanka.”

Vandhiyathevan was puzzled as to why and how this Veera Vaishnavar had come here.

“I was just thinking about you a little while ago. I open my eyes and you jump across the wall.”

Thambi, why were you thinking about me? If you had been thinking of Lord Rama, at least you would have gotten some punyam. Why think of mere mortals like me?”

“Actually I started thinking of Lord Rama only. I was thinking about how Lord Rama had worshipped Shiva at Rameswaram. And then I was reminded of Lord Hanuman. And immediately I thought about you. I wondered if you had also jumped across the ocean to reach here.”

“Who am I, to be compared with the great Hanuman? He had wreaked havoc here in Lanka when he came here. And look at me – I cannot win against a common cat. Look at how he has scratched my leg. My legs are bleeding now.”

“Why did the cat take so much offence to you?”

“I came here searching for you. I tricked the guards in the front gate, and climbed over the back wall. While climbing down the wall, I inadvertently stepped on the cat’s tail. This irritated the cat very much and it started attacking me.”

“Oho. I think I know what is happening here now. The cat came to me and was petting me gently with its tail. I think it is a Veera Shaivite cat. That is why it took a liking to me and hatred towards you.”

“What you say could very well be true. If only I knew this before, I would have given a few whacks to the cat with my staff.”

“Interestingly, ever since I set foot on this holy soil, I have also been feeling a very strong Veera Shaivite attitude. My sword is seeking out the blood of a Veera Vaishnavar. I recollect how you helped me earlier, and that is why I am refraining.”

“When did I ever help you, Thambi?”

“Do you not remember telling me about your sister, the Pazhuvoor Rani? You even showed me the palanquin in which she travelled. I saw the same palanquin outside Thanjavur a few days later. I told her that I had a message for her from you.”

“You seem to be well-versed in the art of telling blatant lies.”

“What I consider imagination, people like you call lies.”

“Anyway, what happened after that?”

“She gave me a ring with the palm tree insignia and asked me to come and see her in her palace.”

“And did you go and see her?”

“Of course, I did.”

“And…”

“She gave me an important task.”

“Which was…”

“To come here to Lanka and search for the Pandiya coronation crown and a bejewelled sceptre. Apparently, it is hidden in some jungle here in Lanka.”

“Hmm. They say that the treasury, under the control of Periya Pazhuvettarayar, has countless riches. It seems that it is still not enough for Nandini Devi. And what did she say she would give you in return?”

“She promised to make me the Fort General of Thanjavur.”

“Hah. That would be nice. If you become the Fort General, then I would get undeterred access to Thanjavur.”

“I doubt if that would even be possible. Look at me. I am now caught in this mess, at the beginning of the mission.”

“Do you know why you have been imprisoned?”

“I brought along the ring with the palm tree insignia, thinking that it would have some power here also. It looks like that is the mistake I made.”

“Yes. That is a big mistake. Did you not know that the General here is from Kodumbalur? The Kodumbalur clan and the Pazhuvur clan have been arch-enemies since a very long time. But, do not worry. I am here to free you. Come with me.”

“No. I will not come with you. Please leave soon. My sword is begging me for some Veera Vaishnava blood.”

“I have enough blood within me. Give some to your sword if you want. Come, let us leave now.”

“No. I will not come.”

“Why are you being so adamant?”

“I thought I would get a good night’s sleep today. Travel has made me tired.”

“Oho. So, you want to sleep. Is this how you will finish the task that Princess Kundavai gave you? Did you not promise her that you would not rest a minute till you reached this scroll to her brother, Prince Arulmozhi?”

Nambi took out a scroll from his hip pouch.

Vandhiyathevan looked blankly at Nambi, took the scroll and stammered, “How did you get this scroll?”

“I got it from General Vikrama Kesari. He asked me to return this ring with the palm tree insignia as well. He also asked me to let you know that you can start your journey at any time.”

“Do you know where the Prince is at this time?”

“No. No one knows. Last we heard was that he had left Anuradhapuram and gone towards Malai Nadu. The General has ordered me to accompany you and help you in navigating this new land.  

A fraction of doubt still clouded Vandhiyathevan’s mind. “Can we meet the General before we leave?”

“Of course, we should meet him before we leave. You should give him any news you may have about Vanathi.”

Vandhiyathevan was almost certain now that Nambi was a sorcerer and knew the dark arts.

Book 2 | Chapter 25 | Thiruketheeswaram

These scenes seemed to be exactly like what Sambandhar and Sundarar had described in their paasurams. The only difference now was that, in place of the devotees thronging to the Thiruketheeswaram temple, there were battalions of armed soldiers roaming around the city. It had been a cantonment city for the last hundred years.

Though it seems like a short time, we have lingered in Thanjavur for a long time now. We have forgotten about our young hero – Vandhiyathevan.

Vandhiyathevan had walked along the coast from where Poonkuzhali had dropped him off and reached the grand city of Maathottam (now called as Thiruketheeswaram). The entrance to the city was filled with fruit trees of every kind. The port of this bustling city was filled with boats and ships of all kinds and sizes. Goods were being loaded and unloaded from these ships.

These scenes seemed to be exactly like what Sambandhar and Sundarar had described in their paasurams. The only difference now was that, in place of the devotees thronging to the Thiruketheesaram temple, there were battalions of armed soldiers roaming around the city. It had been a cantonment city for the last hundred years. The city had been under the control of the Lankan kings for a while and the Pandiya kings during other times. More recently, since Paranthaka Chozhan, it had mostly been a Chozha province.

It was at the fort gates of this cantonment town that Vandhiyathevan stood today, looking at the tall fort walls. He had tried getting in through the gates, but entry had been refused. He had tried his earlier method of forcing entry into the fort, like what he did at Kadambur. He was promptly captured and taken to the Fort Commander.

“I have an important message for Prince Arulmozhi from Thanjavur. I cannot discuss this any further with anyone other than the Commander of the Lankan forces.”

They searched him and found a scroll addressed to the Prince and the ring with the palm tree insignia. The commander of the Lankan forces, General Kodumbalur Boodhi Vikrama Kesari, was informed about Vandhiyathevan. The General was leaving for Rameswaram, along with the Chief Minister, Aniruddha Brahmaraayar. The General gave orders to imprison Vandhiyathevan, until he got back from Rameswaram.

Surprisingly, Vandhiyathevan was very happy about this decision. He was tired from the long journey. Imprisonment was the best way to rest, he thought. He was taken to a dilapidated house in the city, and put under guard.

He spent the first day sleeping and rejuvenating his body. The second day, an interesting thing happened. He started hearing an agitated man shouting in the room next to his.

“Do not come near me. I will kill you. I will send you straight to heaven. What do you think of yourself? You do not know who I am.”

Vandhiyathevan heard only one voice though. There was no one replying to this. He heard this shouting for several hours that day. Towards evening, the shouting increased, and suddenly something dropped into his room through the low wall separating the two rooms.

Vandhiyathevan was petrified for a moment, but as he regained his composure and saw what had fallen, he started laughing heartily. It was a cat. The man in the next room had been threatening a cat all this while. One other thing that was puzzling Vandhiyathevan was that the voice seemed very familiar. He could not remember when or where he had heard this voice, but he had definitely heard this voice before.

He tried to sleep now, but the cat would just not let him sleep. After a little while, he got very irritated at the cat and threw it back over the low wall. There was commotion on the other side of the wall again, with the voice threatening to kill the cat again.

“Who threw the cat back here? Is there someone on the other side?” asked the voice from the other room.

Vandhiyathevan kept quiet. He pretended to sleep, but had his hand on his sword. He waited. He saw two hands trying to climb the low wall and then a face slowly appeared.

Vandhiyathevan recognised the face now, and realised why the voice was so familiar. It was Alwarkadiyaan Nambi.

He got up and sat down. “Veera Vaishnavare, welcome! Welcome to the holy Shiva-sthalam, Thirukedeeswaram.”

“Oho, it is you, thambi. I thought it should have been you. Who else would be sitting so smugly without making a sound?”

Book 2 | Chapter 24 | It is all Kundavai’s plan

“Listen, there is even more to what he has to say. He claims that you met this young spy outside the Thanjavur gates when you were travelling here. He also says that you must have given him the ring then. He claims that the spy also came into this very palace and met you surreptitiously here. Or, he says, the ring must have gotten to him through that other magician who keeps frequenting this palace.”

Kandanmaran noticed the Pazhuvettarayar’s angry approach and hoped that he had not heard the conversation between Nandini and himself. He hoped that the Pazhuvettarayar had not formed any wrong impression of him. But then, he now witnessed a miracle.

Nandini looked at him and fluttered her eyes, “Naada, I was worried that you had been away for so long. It is good that you are back in town.”

The old man looked at his lady love, and when he heard those golden words, melted. He smiled awkwardly.

“The work for which I had gone took a little while longer. What is this young man doing here? Has he brought any romantic poetry for you?”

Kandanmaran’s face flushed crimson. Nandini was quick to retort, and she laughed.

“This young man does not know how to be romantic, nor does he know how to write poetry. All he knows is to get wounded in a fight.”

“Yes, I heard. I have also gotten wounded in battle. Never have I been in bed recuperating though. It has been more than a week, and this young man has still not recovered. Or perhaps, it is because he got wounded in the back, that it has taken so long.”

“Sire, I treat you on par with my father. And that is the only reason I am tolerating these words of yours.”

“Else, what would you do?” the Pazhuvettarayar’s voice grew a tad bit louder, and his hand gripped the sword on his scabbard.

Nandini interrupted at this moment. “Naada, you know that it was not just his back that was wounded. His heart was broken too. The man that he thought was his best friend turned against him. The back wound has healed, but the heart has not. You know what transpired that night, when all this happened.”

She looked into the Pazhuvettarayar’s eyes. There must have been some message that was passed on, because the old man regained his composure immediately.

“Yes, I remember that night. This boy is but an innocent person. I should not take his words too seriously. His father is also a very close friend of mine. Anyway, let it be. I came here to share some important news. Perhaps, Kandanmaran should know about this too.”

“I hear they have captured a spy at Mathottam, in Lanka. He was also apparently holding a scroll meant for the Prince. By the descriptions of the spy that I am hearing, it does seem like Kandanmaran’s handsome friend, Vandhiyathevan. This fellow is a slippery one. Look how he escaped from here to Lanka.”

Naada, I am not very surprised that he slipped away to Lanka. I have told you numerous times of the incompetence of your brother and his forces.”

“Hmm. Yes, you have told me many times before and I had not taken it seriously. I think you are right.”

“Listen, there is more to this. Among the spy’s belongings, they found a ring with the palm-tree insignia.”

“Ah, how could he have one of our insignia rings? What does your brother have to say about that?”

The Pazhuvettarayar laughed a loud villainous laugh. “Kaalanthakan seems to think you must have given the ring to the spy.”

Nandini feigned laughter along with Pazhuvettarayar.

“Listen, there is even more to what he has to say. He claims that you met this young spy outside the Thanjavur gates when you were travelling here. He also says that you must have given him the ring then. He claims that the spy also came into this very palace and met you surreptitiously here. Or, he says, the ring must have gotten to him through that other magician who keeps frequenting this palace.”

Pazhuvettarayar continued laughing his loud raucous laugh.

Naada, I was wrong about your brother. He does make up for his lack of intelligence with his wonderful sense of imagination. I am however sad that you were just listening to all these accusations against me without reacting.”

Suddenly, her face turned angry. The change in emotions was drastic. The old man who had fought so many battles before, was confused.

“Of course, I was not silent. I shot back at my brother. I gave him a piece of my mind.”

Kandanmaran was caught in the middle of all this. He wished not to be there. He cleared his throat.

Ayya, we forgot about this young man here, while discussing the intelligence of your brother. Kandanmaran wishes to return to Kadambur. I hope this is fine with you?”

“Yes. I think it is time. His father would already be worried by now.”

“I also wish to send a scroll through him to Kanchi.”

The Pazhuvettarayar was taken aback by surprise.

“Why are you writing to the Prince at Kanchi?”

“If the Princess writes a scroll and sends it to her younger brother in Lanka, why should I not write a scroll for the elder brother?”

“How do you know that the scroll found on the spy was written by the Princess?”

“I know all. You keep asking me why I meet the magician. He tells me many things – one of which is this. The incompetence of your younger brother’s guards is demonstrated again. They told you about the insignia. Did they tell you about the author of the scroll?”

“This news did not come from my brother’s forces. I heard this from Anbil Aniruddha Brahmaraayar, who has just returned from Lanka.”

“Did he tell you about the author of the scroll? I have been telling you for a while now, about vile happenings around you. There are people plotting against you. The Princess is part of all this. I am not saying this based only on the magician’s words. I had the Pazhayarai Vaidhiyar’s son brought here and interrogated. He confirmed this as well.”

The Pazhuvettarayar was confused. He was also not in favour of discussing all this in front of Kandanmaran. Nandini realised this.

Naada, why should we delay this young man’s departure on his journey? I think, with your approval, he should leave now.”

Ayya, please ensure absolute secrecy. Deliver the scroll in person to the Prince. If he wishes to give a reply scroll, ensure it reaches me in absolute secrecy. Do not forget to invite him to the Kadambur palace.”

“I am wondering what I should tell my father, Devi. Can I mention that it is the Pazhuvoor King’s request?”

“Yes. You can. The Pazhuvoor King’s request is always in alignment with his queen’s thoughts. Is that not right, sire?”

The Pazhuvettarayar nodded uncomfortably.

After Kandanmaran left the room, she looked at him with her dove-like eyes, and spoke in her sweetest seductive voice. “Naada, it looks like the conversation with your brother has reduced your trust in me?” He was clearly blown over. “Uh oh. Never. I might even lose trust over my spear and sword, but my trust in you would never diminish.”

“If that is true, why did you throw so many accusative words at me, and that too, in front of that young man?”

Tears brimmed over her beautiful eyes.

“Oh, please do not cry. It tortures my soul to see you cry. But still, there are some activities of yours that I wish to clarify with you. Do I not have the right to do that?”

“Of course, you can. You definitely have the right to ask me. But, not in front of others. Ask me now. There is no one around.”

“Hmm, okay. Why did you send a scroll to Aditya Karikalan? Why did you invite him to Kadambur? Isn’t he the primary enemy of our plan?”

“No. He is not our primary enemy. Our main enemy is the serpent of Pazhayarai, Kundavai. If you remember, I have been telling you that she has her own plan. I think I have found out what that plan is.”

The Pazhuvettarayar was hooked, and was listening intently.

“I think she wants her favourite younger brother, Arulmozhi to be Emperor. She is willing to side-line anybody else, to achieve her purpose. That is the reason why she has sent the spy to Lanka. That is also the reason why she has now come to Thanjavur. Now, do you see why I sent a scroll to Kanchi?”

The Pazhuvettarayar was even more confused, but he did not show it.

“Yes, I see what you are doing.”

“You and your ancestors have been of so much service to this great Chozha kingdom. I want you to enjoy the throne at least for one day. I want to see that glorious sight. If this idea of mine is wrong, please kill me with your sword right now.”

“Nandini, please do not speak such gruesome words.”