Book 1 | Chapter 42 | Nambi meets the Royal Ladies
The earlier Chozha kings had built embankments along the River Kaveri. For a long while, the embankments had been maintained well, and restricted the flow of the river. During the dark times, when there was a brief period of anarchy in the southern states, the maintenance suffered and the river had taken advantage. The river flooded in many places, got back its free spirit, and meandered down the Kaveri delta. Sometimes, river beds became fertile lands, and sometimes the river took over the crops. There were also times when small natural reservoirs formed due to the course of the river.
One such reservoir close to the Pazhayarai palace had been renovated and converted into a permanent lake. This served as protection to the andhapurams of the palace. The banks had beautifully maintained gardens.
Right next to the majestic palace of the Royal Matron was the beautiful palace of Kundavai. This was where the Emperor had stayed before he moved to Thanjavur. This palace had a direct access to the lake through its own private garden.
This is where today, Kundavai and her friend Vaanathi were playing on a rope swing that hung from a large banyan tree. One of the other hand-maidens was singing a soulful song about Lord Krishna. The two ladies were however silent.
“Vaanathi, why are you silent today? What are you thinking about? Or should I ask who are you thinking about?”
“Akka, please do not tease me.”
“I know where your thoughts are. Your thoughts are fighting alongside my brother Arulmozhi, in Eezhanaadu.”
“In a way you are right. I am thinking about the hardships the Prince is facing in Eezhanaadu. I keep thinking, while he is facing so many hardships there, I am living a luxurious life here. I wish I was there. Like Subadra did for Arjuna and Satyabama did for Krishna, I would drive his chariot. I would be his mental strength. I would make sure he gets proper food and care.”
Kundavai laughed out loud. “That will never happen. Chozha Emperors never take their women into the war field. It is not because our women are not brave. It is because, the enemies would then be enchanted by our beauty and would surrender. The Chozha kings have always been used to fighting and winning wars. This would be beneath their stature.”
“Akka, does that really happen? Would warriors really be enchanted by beauty?”
“Of course. Do you remember the young warrior whom we met at the Kudandhai astrologer’s house? He was the same warrior whom we met at the Arasalar banks. Do you remember how he just stood slack-jawed when he saw us?”
“I remember that. However, he did not stand dazed because of all of us. He was dazed at your beauty. He did not even turn and look at any of us.”
Vaanathi mischievously asked, “May I ask, why is it that, you are suddenly thinking about him?”
“Vaanathi, now you are making fun of me.”
The two ladies laughed heartily at this friendly banter.
They heard a distant announcement and struggled to hear what the announcer was trying to say.
“A young warrior-spy has escaped from Thanjavur. He is tall, and well built. He is a very intelligent warrior who has the wit to fool anybody. He has killed two people in Thanjavur. Anybody found harboring him would be awarded the death sentence. And anybody helping to capture him would be handsomely rewarded. His name is Vallavarayan Vandiyathevan.”
On hearing this, Kundavai shivered.
Another hand-maiden came to her and announced that Alwarkadiyaan Nambi had come to see her.
On the way from the Royal Matron’s palace to Princess Kundavai’s palace, it was very heartening for Nambi to see that Shree Jayanthi was being celebrated in such a grand scale in the Chozha kingdom. He felt that Lord Vishnu had not been ignored after all. In the middle of the main road, there was a large theatrical group, which was performing the life story of Krishna. He saw a small young boy dressed up as Lord Krishna.
The boy spoke in a childish voice, “Kamsa, come fight with me.”
The person dressed up as Kamsan was a tall, well-built man. His mask was frightening. He screamed back, “Dei Krishna, I will come and kill you now. I will also kill your brother Balarama and your father Vasudeva. Along with you all, I will also kill that stout gentleman who has sandalwood paste smeared all over his body.” The crowd turned towards Nambi and laughed boisterously.
Nambi considered if he should teach the actor a lesson, for ridiculing him. Also, the voice of the actor who played Kamsan seemed very familiar.
As he progressed towards Princess Kundavai’s palace, the mood changed. People were whispering to themselves and slamming their doors shut. At that time, Nambi also heard the announcement, which Kundavai had heard, about the reward for finding the warrior-spy. Nambi figured this to be the reason why people were beginning to be suspicious of anyone whom they were not familiar with.
The people of Pazhayarai were also not very fond of the Pazhuvettarayar. They were angry that their dear King had been forcibly taken away to Thanjavur. They were upset that their King was not here on this festive occasion. There was one other cause for discontent among the people of Pazhayarai. The forces fighting in Lanka with Prince Arulmozhi Verman were people from this town. They were hearing that the Pazhuvettarayars were hesitating to send relief supplies of food, clothing, and essentials to the troops in Lanka. The people were surprised that a General would be hesitant to support his Kingdoms troops.
The people whispered among themselves, “Who would dare send a spy to the Chozha kingdom? The southern states of India are anyway either Chozha kingdom or allies. If there is anyone whom the Pazhuvettarayars do not like, they will be branded as spies and thrown into their underground dungeons.”
Nambi reached Kundavai’s palace. The Princess always liked to meet with Nambi. She liked to hear about the stories of his pilgrimages. She liked to hear him sing the Alwar Paasurams.
After paying respects to the Princess, he noticed a change in the Princess’s demeanor. She seemed to be lost in thought and confused.
“Thirumalai, please tell me what you heard in your most recent pilgrimage?”
“People are talking very highly of the Chozha kingdom. People are speculating that very soon, the kingdom will extend to the river Ganga in the north. They are speaking highly of the Emperor and his two sons. They are also talking about the bravery of the Pazhuvettarayar.”
She cut him short there, and asked, “What else?”
“They are asking why the beautiful Princess has not gotten married yet.”
“And what did you reply?”
“I said that the Prince who is blessed to marry the Princess is yet to be born.”
The Princess laughed her usual sparking laugh, which gave some relief to Nambi.
“What else are they saying, Thirumalai?”
“People are surprised that the staunch Shiva Bhaktan Madhuranthaka Thevar got married.”
“And how is your sister, whom you thought would become Aandaal?”
“Hmm. She has nothing to complain. She is living the royal life with Pazhuvettarayar. She controls that household.”
“I hear that not only is she controlling that household, but the full Chozha kingdom?”
“Some do speak about that as well. But, let us forget about her. I would prefer not to talk about her on this auspicious day.”
“Since you spoke about Aandaal, I was in Srivilliputhur, where I learnt a few songs on Lord Krishna.”
And Nambi burst into a spontaneous song about Lord Krishna.
“Pazhayarai is also looking like Aayarpadi of Lord Krishna’s times. Full of festivity.”
“Yes. But what was the announcement that was made some time ago?”
Nambi was waiting for this question.
“Apparently, a spy escaped from Thanjavur. There is a reward for the person who helps catch him.
“Is that all you know? Don’t you have any guesses?”
“I do have one guess, but I am afraid that it is dangerous even to speculate.”
“Tell me more Nambi. Tell me straight. You need not fear me.”
“I think the warrior I met on my way is probably the same person who is being searched. He asked me several questions about the Emperor and the younger prince. I get to understand that he asked the same questions to the Kudandhai astrologer also. I hear that he almost broke into the Josiyar’s house when you were in there. The Josiyar tells me that, thankfully, he did not recognize you.”
“Hmm. He did seem a brash young man. “
“Nambi, can you do me a favor?”
“Order me, and consider it done.”
“If you ever meet this young man…”
“Should I turn him in and claim the reward?”
“No, no. Bring him to me. I have some work for him.”
Nambi was not surprised, but he acted so.
“I do not think it would be necessary. I would not need to go hunt him down for you. He will come to you by himself.”
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