Book 1 | Chapter 30 | Tour of the Fort
With the two guards for company, Vandiyathevan started his tour of the Thanjavur fort. He knew that the two guards were there to keep an eye on him. But then, he had to escape. He had to escape before the Periya Pazhuvettarayar arrived. He was sure that he would not be spared if the Periyavar found about him. With this fear in mind, Vandiyathevan was constantly looking around the fort for ideas to escape. It would not be too difficult to hoodwink these two soldiers, but to get out of the fort, without the Pazhuvettarayars knowledge was near next to impossible. The common thread in the fort town was that, without their consent, even air could not go in and out of the fort. He did not want to go to the underground dungeons. The Emperor himself had quipped that, Lord Yama was waiting, trying to figure out how to get into the fort.
If there was one person whom I could approach for help, it would have to be the Pazhuvoor Queen. Even that chance was slim, but it was the only chance he could think of. He could perhaps bring up some made-up story about Alwarkadiyaan.
While thinking all of this, he kept asking his escorts about the various mansions and palaces that surrounded them. He needed to know where the Periya Pazhuvettarayar palace was.
While he was being flooded with these thoughts, he heard commotion in front of him. He recognized the parade to be the Velakkaarapadai Parade — the brave bodyguard legion of the Emperor. They were returning back from seeing the King in the evening.
Vandiyathevan went closer to the parade, asking his escorts about the parade and the bodyguards. He said that he wanted to be part of the parade and mingled deeper into the parade. The guards however kept their distance and just kept Vandiyathevan in their eyesight. Vandiyathevan meanwhile was jumping with joy and shouting praiseworthy slogans of the Emperor, along with the bodyguards. The bodyguards in return looked at him with amusement, but no one stopped him.
Half way through the distance to the fort gates, one of the bodyguards near Vandiyathevan noticed a lady who was selling milk and curds. The bodyguard bawdily asked for some curds to quench his thirst. She refused and offered the soldier a tight slap instead. The angry guard started chasing the girl. Vandiyathevan was noticing all this. He started running behind the guard, and the curd-seller girl, crying out — “Catch her … catch her now …”.
The girl, who seemed to be a regular in these parts, ran into the maze of narrow streets that branched off from the main thoroughfare. After a while, the girl could not be seen. The guard looked around, shrugged, and started walking back towards the parade. Vandiyathevan had ducked into the darkness in one of the side streets. He had effectively escaped from the guards of the Pazhuvettarayar.
After a little while, he started walking away from the main thoroughfare. He speculated that, if he went in these side streets long enough, he would hit upon one of the fort walls. He was right. Not long after, the side street ended abruptly in a wall. He decided to rest for a while, until the moon came up. He could then think of the next plan. He sat in a corner in the dark, leaning against the wall. With the light wind and the gentle sound of the rustling leaves of a nearby tree, he fell asleep in no time.
He woke up suddenly. The moon had risen up well. He felt rested. He wondered what caused him to wake up. Did he hear something? Was someone calling him?
He looked at the wall. The wall was much smaller. This could not be the fort wall.
“Ayya. What are you looking at? You were sleeping so soundly. How long should I keep calling you?”
A chill ran down Vandiyathevan spine. Could it be a ghost from atop the tree that was talking to him? No, it definitely sounded like a lady’s voice.
She lowered a bamboo ladder down the tree and rested it on the wall.
“Climb quickly and jump to the other side.”
Vandiyathevan was puzzled, but something inside him told him that this would lead him to escape.
He started climbing the ladder.
“You are such a lazy person. The Pazhuvoor Queen is waiting for you there. And you are here sleeping.”
Vandiyathevan smiled to himself. This was serendipity working in his favour.
Several thoughts flooded Vandiyathevan’s mind. “How would she know I am here? Why does she need to wait for me? Perhaps she was waiting for someone else.”
He crossed over the wall and jumped in. She jumped in right after.
In the moonlight, he saw her face. It was the curd seller girl.
“Walk fast. Follow me.”
Vandiyathevan followed her through a well-kept garden, towards what seemed like a large palace.