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.”

Book 2 | Chapter 23 | Nandini’s scroll

She wants her favourite younger brother Arulmozhi to become the king. That is why she has sent for him. If Arulmozhi comes back, she can control the Chozha kingdom the way she wants. She will rule the kingdom by proxy

Nandini was sitting at a bejewelled table, writing a scroll. It was a cool night, one of her handmaidens was fanning her, and yet, one could spot droplets of sweat glistening on her forehead. The message read –

Dear Prince Karikalan, it is with great hesitation that I am writing to you. I am hearing a lot of inauspicious rumours. I am not sure if they are reaching you, or perhaps you are not reacting to any of them. Your father is very sick. Despite several invitations from him to you, you still have not come to meet him. I would like to talk to you. If you think you cannot come to Thanjavur, we can meet at the palace of Sambuvarayar. The bearer of this scroll, Kandanmaran, who is the son of Sambuvarayar, can be trusted with any news from your side. Please revert with your response. – Nandini”

She looked at her handmaiden and said, “Go and bring our guest Kandanmaran here.” Kandanmaran walked into the room. He stood beside a window staring into the garden.

“Ayya, please sit down. I understand that the eyes that have just appreciated Kundavai’s beauty are hesitant to even see me.”

“A thousand Kundavai-s would not be equal to one Nandini Devi.” She laughed off his appreciation.

“Devi, you can talk about anything in front of me, but please do not speak highly of the Princess. When I think of the way she was supporting Vandhiyathevan, my blood boils even now.”

“Still, your imagination did get the better of you when you described your wrestling bout with Vandhiyathevan.”

Kandanmaran felt a little ashamed.

“I had to say something to that effect. It is true that he stabbed me in the back. I hope you do not doubt me?”

“No. I do not. But I do believe you should try and recall, once more, what happened the other night. You met the Periya Pazhuvettarayar and me midway through the passage. Do you remember that?”

“Yes, I do remember that, Devi.”

“Do you remember what you said when we met?”

“Unfortunately, I do not remember the exact words. I do remember that I stood enchanted looking at you that day.”

“You said, ‘Sir, your Devi is the most beautiful woman on Earth.’.”

“Did I say that? No wonder his face flushed red. And I think that is probably the reason why he does not like me too much even now.”

“That is fine. As long as you like him, it is ok.”

“To be honest, I do not like him either.”

“That is also fine. What matters is that I like him a lot. I am blessed to have such a wonderful husband.”

Kandanmaran sat confused not knowing how to respond.

“Ok. Let us get back to that night. After meeting us, what happened?”

“The soldier with the torch went ahead of me. I followed him, thinking of you. We reached the secret door. He opened it, and stepped aside. I entered the secret passage. And then someone stabbed me in the back. That is all I remember. I still feel he must have been waiting for me outside, and then stabbed me when he got the opportunity.”

“That is where I think you are mistaken. I do not think he was waiting outside. I think he was waiting inside the passageway, searching for a way out. Once he saw you, he followed you all the way out. On his way out he must have stabbed you in the back. But, once he did that, perhaps his conscience got the better of him. He took you to the flower seller’s house, left you there, and escaped.”

“In hindsight, I think your theory is more probable, Devi. In this world, you would either see beautiful women or intelligent women. It is rare to see someone both beautiful and intelligent. You are one of those rare ones that Brahma created.”

“I need you to do me a favour. Would you help me with a task?”

“Anything that you tell me to do, Devi?”

“I would like you to take a scroll to Prince Karikalan in Kanchi. After he has read the scroll, and if he is willing, please take him to Kadambur as a guest.”

“Devi – would that be a wise thing to do? You do know about the plan that is being devised by Periya Pazhuvettarayar and some of that area’s chieftains.”

“Yes, I do know about those plans. But right now, all of us are threatened by one common enemy.”

“And who is that enemy?”

“The poisonous snake that came and visited you this afternoon.”

“The Princess …”

“Yes.”

“The Princess has sent your friend Vandhiyathevan to Lanka on the pretext of getting herbs to cure her father. That is a farce. The reality is that, after her father, she wants neither Aditya Karikalan nor Madhuranthakan to become the king.

She wants her favourite younger brother Arulmozhi to become the king. That is why she has sent for him. If Arulmozhi comes back, she can control the Chozha kingdom the way she wants. She will rule the kingdom by proxy. You know who will rule the kingdom with her – your dear friend Vandhiyathevan.”

“Aha. We need to stop this. Should we not tell my father and Pazhuvettarayar about this?”

“Hmm. There is no use telling them. They will not believe this. They do not believe that she is capable of all this. Kundavai’s dirty tricks should be countered by similar tricks. Would you do me the favour or not?”

She gave him the scroll. Caught in the smoke of lust, Kandanmaran held her hand, instead of taking the scroll, “I would do anything for you, Devi.”

Just at that time, there was commotion from the direction of the latha mandapam entrance. The Pazhuvettarayar entered the premises, and he seemed very angry. A parrot kept in a cage near the entrance fluttered its wings in surprise. The hand-maiden at the door let out a gasp on seeing the angry approach of the master of the palace.

Book 2 | Chapter 22 | Ponnaar Meniyane

Two of the guards pushed one of the tiger cages to a side, using a system of pulleys and wheels. They then pulled up a trap door closed with a heavy stone slab. Steps led down to the dungeon.

The royal mint of the Chozha kingdom was located in one corner of the Thanjavur fort. It was as heavily guarded as the outer gates of the fort. It was around sunset when Kundavai and Vanathi arrived at the mint. When their chariot came to a halt, the soldiers and the people around cheered and hailed the Princess of the kingdom. It was closing time, and the goldsmiths who had been minting coins through the day were leaving the mint.

The goldsmiths were being frisked and checked before they left for their homes. The Chief Soldier gave the royal ladies a tour of the mint. They saw the process of how beautiful gold ornaments and gold ingots were melted and cast into coin-shaped forms. The coins had the tiger emblem on one side and a ship emblem on the other.

“Akka, what is the advantage of converting the gold into coins?”

“You are indeed a very innocent and naïve girl. If we convert gold into coins, it will facilitate trade between neighbouring countries. It is also very easy to measure and count. It will also enable our subjects to pay taxes and other levies more easily and accurately.”

Kundavai lowered her voice and said, “There is also one unfortunate thing that this conversion facilitates. These people whom we keep hearing about, who are plotting a coup against my father – they can easily sway and buy over people and resources, to get their ulterior work done.”

The Chief Guard heard this last bit of information faintly.

“Princess, you are right. There are many such rumours floating around. The security in the mint has hence been increased significantly in recent times. The number of people who come and go to the underground dungeons below this mint has also increased.”

“I understand people coming into the dungeons have increased. But leaving it too?”

“Yes, Princess. Just yesterday, there was a prisoner who was brought in. A little while ago, they took him away again.”

The Princess and Vanathi walked through the mint towards the back gate. They reached a tall wall on which there was a small gate. They opened the gate and stepped inside. It was dark inside and the ceiling was low.

There were fearsome growling noises coming from all around. There was a guard with a torch sitting in a corner. In the light of the torch, if one looked hard enough, one could see several cages. Roaming inside each of these cages were fearsome tigers. Their eyes glowed in the light of the torch.

Kundavai grabbed Vanathi by her arm and said, “Vanathi, I hope you are not afraid. Please do not faint and fall here.”

“Akka, why should I be afraid of tigers? They are after all the symbol of our kingdom, and hence our protectors.”

“Sometimes protectors join forces with our enemies. We should be careful.”

“Akka, what do they feed these tigers?”

“Prisoners who try escaping the underground dungeon are the food for these beasts.”

“Oh God! How cruel!”

“Vanathi, such is the nature of running a kingdom. One has to do such things.”

“You should have been there when I was speaking to the Chinna Pazhuvettarayar. It almost seemed like he would imprison me in this prison.”

“Akka, I don’t think anyone would ever dare do such a thing.”

“Right now, I am worried only about the Vaidhiyar’s son. He did seem to be an innocent boy.” The tigers were growling incessantly.

“Guard, please show us to the entrance of the underground dungeon.”

Two of the guards pushed one of the tiger cages to a side, using a system of pulleys and wheels. They then pulled up a trap door closed with a heavy stone slab. Steps led down to the dungeon.

The Princess, Vanathi, and two guards descended one by one. The darkness intensified. The light of the torches showed the way down the narrow passageway. They moved slowly in a single file. The silence was broken intermittently by the gut-wrenching cries of prisoners who were kept in isolation.

In the midst of this eerie chaos, there was the sound of a sweet and melodious voice. “Ponnaaar Meniyane! Pulitholai Araikku Asaithu!”

The guard held his torch near each of the cell entrances. Some prisoners were kept in isolation. There were some cells with two prisoners. In some cells, the prisoners were chained to rings on the walls. Kundavai looked at each of the prisoners’ faces and moved on slowly.

“Akka, why are all these prisoners kept here? Are they prisoners tried by any court of law?”

“Vanathi, normal prisoners are usually tried in the court of law. These prisoners are those who committed heinous crimes of treason against the kingdom. Some of them are spies and some of them are those who abetted spies. The guards try to extract as much information as possible from them.

Once they get the required information, the prisoners are usually released. But of course, from some prisoners, one cannot recover any information – some people do not have any information – what would they do?”

By this time, the beautiful music was getting closer. When they reached the cell from where the music was coming, the Princess could see that there was a young man inside the cell, sitting in peace, singing his beautiful song.

Yes, the reader is familiar with this young man. It was Sendhan Amudhan, indeed.

The young man bowed to the Princess.

“You seem to be in good spirits, young man.”

“The omnipotent God is everywhere – including here. Why should I not be in good spirits?”

“You seem to be a gnani. What were you doing before you came here?”

“I am not a gnani, Princess. I used to make garlands and worship the Lord. Here I am singing couplets and worshipping the Lord.”

“Is this the only song you know, or do you know other songs?”

“I know a few more, but ever since I came here, I have been singing just this same song. On my way here, I passed through the mint where there were heaps of gold – which reminded me of the beautiful golden skin (Ponnaar Meni) of Lord Shiva.”

“Do you have any relatives?”

“Only my mother. Her name is Vani Ammai. She lives near the thamarai kolam (lotus pond) outside the Thanjavur fort.”

“I will let her know that you are fine and in good spirits down here.”

“That would not be of any use, Princess. Neither can she hear what you say, nor can she reply back. She is both deaf and dumb.”

“Oho. Then your name must be Sendhan Amudhan.”

“Yes, Princess.”

“And what is the crime for which you have been kept here?”

“Until yesterday, even I did not know. Just today I heard that I have been kept here for the crime of helping a spy.”

“Who was the spy you helped?”

“I met him outside the fort gates one fine day. He was looking for a place to stay. I invited him home. I did not know that he was a spy then. He said his name was Vallavarayan Vandhiyathevan.”

On the Princess’ request, Sendhan Amudhan narrated in entirety what happened between him and Vandhiyathevan.

“How is it that you helped someone whom you had just met, so much?”

“There are some people to whom you take an immediate liking. Vandhiyathevan was one such person. He was so likeable. He did not seem to be a bad person at all.”

“At the same time, there are some people whom you will hate on first look. I had one such person in my cell until some time back. Thankfully, soldiers from the Pazhuvoor Queen’s guard came and freed him some time back.”

“Hmm. Is that so? And why is it that you have so much hatred for this man?” exclaimed the Princess.

“This person said he was the son of a Vaidhiyar from Pazhayarai. Apparently, he and Vandhiyathevan had gone down to Kodikkarai together. He spoke badly about my cousin, Poonkuzhali, who lives there. Hence my anger, Princess. But there is one piece of good news that I gleaned out of him.”

“And what is that good news?”

“He says he tried to trick Vandhiyathevan into getting caught by the soldiers sent by the Pazhuvettarayar. Bloody traitor! But thankfully, Vandhiyathevan escaped.”

Both Vanathi and Kundavai exclaimed in unison, “He escaped?”

“Yes. Apparently, Poonkuzhali took him in her boat in the middle of the night to drop him off at Lanka.”

“Young man, you do not look like someone who could have done any wrong. I will ask the Fort Commander to release you.”

“Princess, I request you to grant me some more time. The old man in the next cell has been asking me to teach him a couple of songs. If I do so, he has promised me that he would tell me where he has hidden the Pandiya Coronation Crown. I will learn that secret and then come out.”

The Princess and Vanathi laughed out loudly.

“I do not want you to go mad like the person in the next cell. Then, what will I tell your mother, Vani Ammai?”

The Princess and her entourage left the dungeon. In about half an hour, some soldiers came and released Sendhan Amudhan from the underground dungeon, and guided him to the Thanjavur fort gates.

Book 2 | Chapter 21 | Who dare disobey me!

“If there is a big calamity that befalls the Chozha kingdom, it would be because of only two ladies.”

Kundavai exclaimed, “One lady is me; who is the other one?”

“The Pazhuvoor Queen, Nandini.”

Princess Kundavai’s life had taken a drastic turn. It used to be a fantasy land, where she did not know the meaning of sorrow or sadness. Life was filled with close friends and hand-maidens, who took care of each and every whim of the Princess. In recent times, she was slowly getting exposed to current affairs. Astrologers were predicting that something bad was going to happen to the Chozha kingdom. She had gotten to know about a plot to overthrow her brother from being heir-apparent. Deadly rumours roamed the streets of the city.

However, Kundavai was one who possessed a very strong will and she was confident that she could solve all this with her diligence and planned actions. She did possess adequate mental acuity to manage all this. She also noticed that she was being drawn towards this charismatic man – Vandhiyathevan. Why was she getting drawn towards him? Why had she been so badly affected when Nandini mentioned that he might be dead?

But this was no time for these thoughts. Things had to be done. She had sent word that she would be meeting the Chinna Pazhuvettarayar in the afternoon.

When the Princess went to the Chinna Pazhuvettarayar’s palace, she was warmly welcomed by the ladies of the palace. She was then ushered into the gallery, where the Chinna Pazhuvettarayar was waiting. He proudly guided the Princess through the gallery describing each of the paintings in his collection. When they came to the last painting, which was of the Chinna Pazhuvettarayar himself, she stopped and looked at him.

“This is an excellent collection. It looks like the Pazhuvettarayars have rendered much service to the royal family of this kingdom.”

“It has been our blessing to have done so.”

“But could you not wait until my father dies, to start plotting your activities to capture the throne for yourself? What is the big hurry?”

The Chinna Pazhuvettarayar was shocked. His forehead was covered with beads of perspiration. His hands were shaking. He fumbled for words.

“Oh, Princess. I am deeply hurt by listening to you talk of me like this.”

“If so, please tell me, if I have committed any mistake by sending men to gather herbs to cure my ailing father’s health?”

“Of course, it is not your mistake to have done such a noble thing.”

“Then, why did you capture the Pazhayarai Vaidhiyar’s son and bring him back to the city in chains like a common criminal? You did know that it was I, who had sent him.”

“Perhaps, oh Princess, you do not know yet, that he is a spy.”

“He can never be a spy. How can the son of a famous Vaidhiyar be a spy?”

“Well, he himself admitted that he was one.”

It was Kundavai’s turn to be shocked now.

“How could that be? What did he admit?”

“He admitted that the person traveling with him was a spy. He admitted that his companion was not really searching for any herbs but was in reality, taking a scroll to someone in Lanka.”

“This Vaidhiyar’s son is a fool. Were you not aware that the person who accompanied this fool was also sent by me?”

“Yes, Princess. I am aware. I am also aware that the companion, whose name is Vandhiyathevan, has tricked you as well. He is really a spy.”

“It cannot be. Vandhiyathevan was a trusted messenger who brought a scroll to me from my brother in Kanchipuram. He also brought a scroll for the Emperor. What proof do you have that he is a spy?”

“I know that he delivered these scrolls. Spies have their own ways of deceiving common people. If he is not a spy, why did he have to go to the Kudandhai Josiyar and ask him about the future of the Emperor?”

“Well, I had also asked about the future to the astrologer. What is wrong with that?” shot back the Princess.

“The Emperor’s daughter asking this question is different. A common man asking these questions invokes suspicion.”

“That is just your hunch. Do you have any other proof?”

“If he is not a spy, he should have come into the fort after seeking formal permission from me. Why did he have to show a ring with the palm tree insignia and get into the fort? Why did he have to lie that the Periya Pazhuvettarayar gave it to him?”

“If it was not the Periya Pazhuvettarayar who gave him the ring, who gave it to him?”

“We are still investigating about that.”

“Your men could not even find that till now?”

The Pazhuvettarayar was clearly getting irritated. “I said, we are still investigating. We have just now caught one of the spies. We will interrogate him and find out.”

“And what if he does not tell you the truth?”

“We have ways to make him tell the truth. We have the famed Thanjavur underground dungeons. The other spy had known about this. And that is why he escaped from the fort. On his way, you might have heard, he also tried to kill Sambuvarayar’s son.”

“Do you have proof for that?”

“It is just Kandanmaran’s word that we believe.”

“Hah. Just his words. I am telling you now, Kandanmaran was not stabbed by Vandhiyathevan.”

“What proof do you have for this assertion of yours, Princess?”

“I can find out from a person’s face if he is lying or is a deceitful person.”

“Huh. That spy is a lucky person. He has somehow formed a good impression on you. Unfortunately, I have not been lucky enough to be able to form that kind of an impression on you.”

“Why do you keep referring to him as a spy?”

“If he is not a spy, why did he have to enter into Pazhayarai disguised as a stage performer? Why did he have to go in disguise to Kodikkarai? When he saw my troops, why did he have to hide there for a whole day? Why did he have to sail to Lanka in the middle of the night?”

“Oho. He has escaped to Lanka? Your guards have still not been able to catch him.”

There was visible relief and happiness in Kundavai’s voice.

“Hmm. Yes. This dangerous spy is a tricky one to catch. These idiotic soldiers of mine let him escape and came back with this Vaidhiyar’s son.”

“I do not care about the spy. The Vaidhiyar’s son was sent by me. Release him immediately. He is innocent.”

“This fellow might not be the spy. But he has been an accomplice to the spy. He has been fooling my guards with all kinds of fantasy stories. He has helped the spy sail away.”

“I do not care. Release him immediately.”

“I am sorry, Princess. I am not willing to do that. In the interest of the nation’s security, I cannot do that. There are coups and traitors all over the kingdom. I am hearing rumours that the supporters of Veera Pandiyan are regrouping. These supporters have sworn to vanquish the entire Chozha royal family.”

“Let there be room for the real conspirators. Release this innocent man.”

“I am not willing to do that myself, Princess.” The Chinna Pazhuvettarayar was clearly very irritated. He fished for a large key bunch from his tunic and handed it over to the Princess.

“Here are the keys to the underground dungeons. You can go and release the man yourself. You can release any one else you deem to, as well. The repercussions of this act are solely yours.”

Kundavai suppressed the boiling anger within herself. She reached out and took the keys. “Ok. I will do it myself. And I will take responsibility for my actions.”

“If there is a big calamity that befalls the Chozha kingdom, it would be because of only two ladies.”

Kundavai exclaimed, “One lady is me; who is the other one?”

“The Pazhuvoor Queen, Nandini.”

Kundavai chuckled.

“I hope you realise what would happen to you, if your elder brother hears this statement of yours. He will exile you from this kingdom.”

“That would be perfect. I am waiting for that day.”

Book 2 | Chapter 20 | The Two Tigresses

Nandini laughed an evil laugh. “Anyway, the dead cannot be brought back to life.” Kundavai tried to reassure herself that Vandhiyathevan would not fall so easily.

The news of the capture of the spy came as a shock to all three people in the room. Nandini suggested that they go to the upstairs balcony to take a look. Kandanmaran limped behind the two ladies, who rushed up the stairs. The three of them peered into the distance, where half a dozen soldiers were riding down the road on horses. In between the horses, there was a prisoner whose hands were tied together and being held by the soldiers on each side. Silence engulfed the balcony as the soldiers inched towards them.

“No, this is not my friend, Vandhiyathevan,” exclaimed Kandanmaran. Relief flushed over Kundavai’s face and irritation over Nandini’s. Kundavai realised that the prisoner was the Vaidhiyar’s son.

“Why are they bringing this fellow here? I recognise this to be the son of the Pazhayarai Vaidhiyar,” said Kundavai.

“My friend, Vandhiyathevan, is not that easy to catch,” said Kandanmaran.

“Hmm. You still mention him as your friend,” said Nandini.

“He might have turned a traitor, but somewhere in my heart, he still lives on as a friend,” said Kandanmaran.

“I got word that these men were pursuing two spies to Kodikkarai. Perhaps they were able to catch only one alive,” said Nandini, as she watched Kundavai’s face for any reaction.

Kundavai hid her mental tumult by showing off her anger.

“These people are going overboard with their stories. Spies. Humph! I sent this fellow to Kodikkarai to collect herbs from there for my father’s medicine. And they bring him back as a spy. I am going to go right now and ask the Chinna Pazhuvettarayar for an explanation.”

Nandini, with a touch of sarcasm asked, “Did you send only this person, or one more person to accompany him?”

“Yes. I sent one more person. I asked the other one to go on to Lanka.”

“Oho. Now I am beginning to understand everything. This other person, do you know him from before?”

“Not for too long. He came from Kanchipuram with a scroll from my brother.”

“Ah! That person, that very same person is the spy. He has fooled you as well.”

“Why is everyone suspecting him to be a spy?”

“If he is not one, why should he run away from here in the middle of the night? Also, why should he stab this poor man in his back?”

“I am not fully convinced that he is a spy. Also, I do not believe that he might have stabbed Kandanmaran either. If he did, why would he have brought him all the way to the dumb woman’s house?”

“Devi, you speak as though you saw all of this with your own eyes. You seem to be talking so much in support of him. There must be something magical about him. Even this man is still calling him a friend, despite what he did to him.”

Nandini laughed an evil laugh. “Anyway, the dead cannot be brought back to life.” Kundavai tried to reassure herself that Vandhiyathevan would not fall so easily.

“Ever since the Chakravarthy fell ill, this kingdom is being run like a circus. How dare these soldiers try and capture men whom I had sent to get the medicinal herbs? I will go and ask the King himself.”

“Devi, why do you want to disturb the ill Emperor with all this? Ask my brother-in-law. Perhaps he did not know they were your men. In this whole kingdom, who would dare disobey the Princess?”

In this war of words between the two tigresses, it was clear that Nandini had won this bout. Kundavai stormed out of the room with a heavy heart.

Book 2 | Chapter 19 | Kandanmarans Imagination

He turned towards Nandini and hissed, “I hear that Princess Kundavai is planning to come to our palace. And I hear that it was you who invited her. Why does she have to come here? Have you forgotten how she insulted you earlier?”

The inauguration function had left the Periya Pazhuvettarayar in a very irritable state. He felt that the whole function had raised the confidence of the people in the royal family. He was very irritated at the fact that land from several villages were being written off in the name of social service. He felt that at this rate, there would be nowhere he could collect taxes from. And if he did not collect taxes, the treasury would not have enough money to send for the troops, which the Emperor kept asking him to send.

He turned towards Nandini and hissed, “I hear that Princess Kundavai is planning to come to our palace. And I hear that it was you who invited her. Why does she have to come here? Have you forgotten how she insulted you earlier?”

“I neither forget good deeds that people have done for me, nor do I forget people who have insulted me.”

“Then why is she coming here?”

“She is the daughter of the Emperor of this country. She does as she pleases.”

“Then, why did you invite her?”

“I never invited her. She invited herself. She wanted to meet Kandanmaran. Could I refuse her request? There will be a time when I will refuse. Until then, I would have to be patient.”

“I cannot be in this palace when she comes. In fact, I cannot be in this town, when she comes. I have some work in Mazhapadi. It will be a few days before I return.”

“I would also prefer that. Leave this poisonous snake to me. I know how to handle her. When you return, you might hear some interesting news. Please do not be shocked when you hear them.”

“What kind of interesting news are you talking about?”

“News such as Kundavai wanting to marry Kandanmaran, or Prince Aditya Karikalan wanting to marry Kandanmaran’s sister.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Not everything that is talked about would happen.”

She looked at him with steely eyes.

“You have been telling everyone that you are going to make that effeminate fool, Madhuranthaka Thevar, the Emperor. Is that going to happen?”

He stood shell-shocked for a moment, and then slowly took her hand and kissed it. “The day when you would become Empress of the Chozha kingdom is nearing.”

Kandanmaran felt very excited about the impending visit of Princess Kundavai. He had heard about her beauty and intelligence. It was also an honour to be visited by the Princess of this large kingdom. He would have to repeat the story of his back-stabbing friend to her as well. He felt a little bad, when he thought about his participation in some of the activities that were being carried out against the royal family, to which she belonged.

When he did meet the Princess, he lost himself in her. He was completely enamoured by her humility, her beauty, and her friendly nature. He spoke to her about his own valour.

“I would have even forgiven him if he had plunged his spear into my heart. The fact that he stabbed me from behind is what makes me so angry.”

The resentment and the anger in his face even made the Princess rethink, for a moment, about whether she should believe Vandhiyathevan, or this young warrior in front of her.

“He started cheating me when we were at Kadambur itself. He did not tell me the real reason why he was going to Thanjavur. He showed some fake insignia and entered the city. He met the Emperor claiming that he had some scroll from Aditya Karikalan. Apparently, he brought you also into the story, by claiming that he was going to meet you and deliver another scroll from your brother. He has escaped from the Fort General’s guards. I still cannot believe he would be a spy. I knew him to be an eccentric person, but a spy, I cannot be sure.”

This was when Kandanmaran’s imagination took over.

“I set out in search of him and wanted to talk some sense into him. He was treading into dangerous territory. I set out alone along the outer walls of the fort. I did not want to take anyone with me, and humiliate my friend. That was when I saw someone scaling down the Thanjavur forts. I recognised it to be my friend. I accosted him and spoke with him. I asked him to tell me the real reason why he had come to Thanjavur, and I promised him all the help that I could offer. It was then he kicked me on my chest. We then started wrestling. Very soon, he accepted defeat and asked for forgiveness. I forgave him. He said he wanted to sit and talk. I led the way.”

“Suddenly he plunged a long knife into my back. And before I could react, he ran away. I lost consciousness. When I woke up next, I found myself in the house of a dumb lady.”

Kundavai smiled within herself. There were so many loopholes in the story that Kandanmaran was spinning. “How did you get to the dumb lady’s house?”

“That is what I am unable to fathom. Apparently, the dumb lady has a son, who also vanished around the same time. If he comes back, we can ask him. Else, we will have to wait until the Fort General’s troops capture Vandhiyathevan.”

“Do you think he will get caught?”

“Of course, he will. I am waiting here only with that thought in mind. I would like to talk some sense into him, and perhaps even get forgiveness from the Pazhuvettarayars.”

“I am impressed by your love for your friend.”

Just at that time, a hand-maiden ran into the house and announced, “Amma, the spy has been caught. They are bringing him into town.”

Book 2 | Chapter 18 | Thanjavur Hospital

“Apparently, someone named Vandhiyathevan, a Vaanarkula warrior from Thiruvallam, in Thondainaadu. My brother-in-law has sent men all over the country to capture the spy.”

In olden years of Tamizh Nadu, royal ladies used to participate significantly in public service. The ladies had separate trust funds, which were used to promote several activities such as temple renovation, daily rituals for temples, and food for travellers. In particular, Princess Kundavai had set up several medical facilities. We have already seen the Ayurvedic hospital at Pazhayarai. On this day, she was all set to inaugurate a hospital on the outskirts of Thanjavur.

The Garuda Mandapam opposite the Perumal temple, just outside the Thanjavur fort, was abuzz with activity. The inauguration of the Thanjavur hospital by Princess Kundavai was to start shortly in this mandapam. Crowds milled around the mandapam. There were administrative personnel, small kings and vassals, band musicians, and official engravers, who had assembled. The royal family had started to arrive. Prince Madhuranthakan came, seated very uncomfortably atop a white horse. Princess Kundavai and several others of the royal family arrived in palanquins. Nandini arrived in her own palanquin with the palm-tree insignia.

The inauguration function started when the Periya Pazhuvettarayar arrived. The temple musicians sang a Devaram song, talking about the benefits of the sacred ash – Thiruneeru.

Nandini whispered to Kundavai, “When Sambandhar sang this song, the sacred ash had such medicinal powers that it cured the Pandiya king of an incurable disease. These days, it seems, the sacred ash has lost its power. We need doctors and herbs to cure people.”

“Yes. In those times, people led a dharmic life. It was because of this that the sacred ash had such powers. These days, people lead lives filled with sins. There are even people who are conspiring against the King and the royal family. Have we ever heard of such things in the past?”

“I am surprised that there are people plotting against the King. Who are they?”

“I am not sure, but I am still investigating. Very soon, I will find out. I am planning to stay on in Thanjavur until I find out about everything.”

“I will try and help you with anything that you require of me, Princess. I will have to leave soon. We have a visitor at home – the Kadambur prince, Kandanmaran. He is a handsome young fellow. He is in a pitiful mental state right now though. He keeps mumbling something about a spy and a backstabber. He keeps talking about a close friend who had turned traitor.”

“Who could have committed such a bad thing?”

“Apparently, someone named Vandhiyathevan, a Vaanarkula warrior from Thiruvallam, in Thondainaadu. My brother-in-law has sent men all over the country to capture the spy.”

“Hmm. I seem to recognise that name somewhere. How do we know if he is indeed a spy?”

“I do not know anything about this. All this information came from Kandanmaran. If you want to know more, you should probably come and talk to him.”

“Yes, I will come and meet him sometime. The Sambuvarayar clan has been loyal to us for several generations.”

By this time, the Devaram music had ended. The accountants ceremoniously read out details of the donations of land and money towards setting up the hospital. The engravers recorded this on brass plaques. On behalf of the treasury, the Periya Pazhuvettarayar ceremoniously handed over the plaques to the accountants to be formalised. Various formal announcements were made, such as the amount allocated for the Chief Doctor’s salary. There were also agreements in kind, such as the donation of milk for the patients’ consumption.

Cheers praising the royal family members rose from the crowd.