Book 1 | Chapter 43 | Rendezvous with the Princess
After meeting with the Princess, Alwarkadiyaan decided to go to his cousin, Eesana Shiva Bhattar’s house. It was a short walk away. Nambi noticed that the festivities of Shree Jayanthi had died down considerably. He passed through the army quarters where the wives of the soldiers were whispering among themselves. There was discontent writ on their faces. It was night by the time he reached his cousin’s house, which was right next to the Shiva temple.
This Shiva temple had attained fame because of the Saint Appar, who had sung Devaram songs here. When Appar had come here, the area had been misappropriated by Jain monks. They had built cave like meditation structures all around the temple, completely hiding it. Appar requested the Pallava king at that time to help clear the way and discovered a small Shiva temple here. Later Chozha kings had rebuilt and renovated this small temple.
The only way to get to his cousin’s house was through the temple gopuram. All other entrances were blocked by the cave like structures.
Nambi stepped through the gopuram. He heard sounds of revelry and found the same stage actors, who had enacted the life of Krishna earlier, here. While Nambi was looking around this group, Eesana Shiva Bhattar hurriedly rushed out, caught Nambi by the hand and dragged him out of the temple.
“Anna, what are you doing?” asked a surprised Nambi.
“After what you did in the court of the Maharani today, what do you expect? I do not want you to step into this Shiva temple ever again. If you want, come home, eat and leave.”
Eesana Shiva Bhattar caught Nambi by the neck, pushed him out of the temple, and slammed the temple door shut.
Nambi had not expected this. He decided to go to his cousin’s house. He took the long route around the temple, navigating around the meditation caves, and reached his cousins house after a while. His cousin’s wife had a soft corner for Nambi. She liked his witty words. Nambi entertained her with witty anecdotes of his travels, and ate the food that she served. He then came to the front ante-room and lay down.
He was reminded of something that he had seen while he was walking by the Kudamurutti River. He had glimpsed a horse ride very fast on the other bank. The horse was wet, whether from sweat or from swimming across the river, he couldn’t tell. On the back of the horse, there was a young man tied to the saddle. The horse was being chased by a few soldiers on horses. As Nambi watched, the soldiers had caught up with the quarry and were questioning the young man. Nambi could not clearly hear what they were talking. All he could hear was, “Where is he?” being repeated several times. To this question, the young man had responded that he was gone and that he had been washed away by the flooding river. The soldiers had taken the young man and the horse away with them.
At that time, Nambi could not fathom anything about what had happened. Now, however, he started piecing together the pieces. He recalled the familiar voice of the actor who had played the part of Kamsa in the theatrical group.
Eesana Shiva Bhattar returned to his home after finishing his last prayers for the evening. He saw Nambi sprawled in his front ante-room. Nambi pretended to be in deep sleep. The priest slammed the door shut and went inside.
Next morning, the priest came outside. “Nambi, when are you going to leave? I am no longer your elder brother. Please do not call me Anna ever.”
“I will leave as soon as your anger comes down, Anna.”
The priest’s wife intervened, “Why are you getting so angry? Has he not always been like this?”
“The words he uttered in front of the Queen yesterday were disgusting. He called our Supreme Lord, the one who goes around the cemetery with a skull. It felt like someone was pouring molten lead into my ear. Apparently the Queen did not sleep the whole night.”
She intervened again, “I will talk to him. He will not speak like that again.”
“The only way he can atone for this misdeed is, if he goes to Rameswaram and pray to Lord Shiva there. Even his Lord Rama prayed to Shiva over there.”
The priest glared at Nambi and walked away.
After about half an hour, the priest returned in a calmer state of mind.
“Thirumalai, I am sorry. Anger took the better of me. I hope you did not take it all to heart.”
“No, Anna. I did not take any offense.”
“Ok. Please stay right here. After I finish the noon prayers, I will come back. I would like to talk to you and take your advice on something important.”
Saying so, the priest rushed into the temple. Thirumalai followed surreptitiously.
The priest went into the temple. Nambi waited patiently nearby. Soon, he saw the priest come out with someone. The priest looked around here and there, to ensure no one was watching. He was a young man. He looked familiar. He did look like the actor who played Kamsan. The two of them scurried down around the meditation mounds until they came to a water body. Nambi recognized this to be the same large lake adjoining the palaces. A boatman was waiting. The two of them got in. The strangers face was now clearly visible.
Aha, Nambi’s guess was correct. It was indeed the warrior whom he had met at Veeranarayanapuram.
Nambi needed to find out where the boat was headed to. The boat crossed a few palaces. Nambi guessed that the boat was headed to the Princess’s palace. He knew that the palace next to the Princess palace belonged to the Chief Minister, Aniruddha Brahmaraayar. He knew it would be locked, since the minister was in Madurai on an official visit, and his family lived in Thanjavur.
Nambi smartly walked into the locked palace compound. The guards recognized Nambi and paid their respects. He said he needed to head to the back of the palace, and he did not need help. Nambi swiftly crossed the palace grounds and reached the back of the palace. Along the banks, Nambi crossed over into the Princess’s compound and found a hidden vantage point from where he could watch what was going to happen.
The boat anchored near the shore. The priest and the young man got out of the boat and climbed up the stairs. Princess Kundavai was sitting on a marble bench at the top of the stairs. As the two men reached the top of the stairs, Kundavai stood up. Vandiyathevan looked at her. Their eyes locked. The splashing of the gentle waves of the lake stopped. The wind seemed to freeze. The Earth seemed to have come to a stop.
Vandiyathevan and Kundavai continued looking at each other’s eyes. No one blinked. Something deep inside them justified the attraction between them as primeval. Eesana Shiva Bhattar cleared his throat.
Kundavai spoke in a deep majestic voice, “I hear that you wanted to meet me alone.”
“It depends on who you are. I think the priest has brought me to the wrong place.”
“Whom did you wish to meet, young man?”
“I wanted to meet the most gracious and beautiful daughter of the Emperor Sundara Chozhan, the sister of the two brave princes, Aditya Karikalan and Arulmozhi Verman, the Princess Kundavai Devi.”
She smiled and said, “The person who is burdened with all of those fancy titles, is me.”
The bravado in Vandiyathevan vanished in a snap.
“Then I am assuming, it was not you, whom I met at the Kudandhai Josiyar’s house, and on the banks of the River Arasalar.”
“Hmm. That same lady who did not treat you with respect in both of those places — that was me as well. I guess you were not expecting to meet that disrespectful lady again so soon?”
“Meeting again, is probably not the right phrase.”
“To meet again, one should have separated in the first place. You never left my heart.”
“I did not know that warriors from the Thondai Mandalam could respond with so much wit.”
“I see that you only speak highly of your own Chozha people.”
“Yes. I am guilty of that. Why? Do you not like the Chozha kingdom?”
“I like the Chozha kingdom, but there are two dangers looming here.”
“Yes. The Chozha warrior’s knife and spear are indeed two formidable dangers to anyone from outside.”
“I do not speak of those two dangers. I have a knife and spear too. I am well trained in the use of these two weapons too.”
“Yes. I remember how well you can use your spear. I saw you use it on a dead crocodile.”
The two laughed. She looked at him, “What else are the two dangers are you mentioning?”
“The strong swirling current of the Chozha kingdom’s rivers is one danger.”
“How did you get into a river? You look like someone who would not get your feet wet.”
“It was all because of a stupid friend of mine. He refused to tell a lie. Let me tell you the full story. I had a message from your brother Aditya Karikalan for the Emperor and you. The Chinna Pazhuvettarayar branded me as a spy instead and sent his forces searching for me. While escaping from Thanjavur, I took the help of a friend, whose house I had stayed in. I had asked him to ride with me so that he could give me directions to Pazhayarai.”
“Whom did you stay with, at Thanjavur?”
“I stayed with a family that cultivated flowering plants and sells flowers. The lady of the house is a deaf and dumb woman. The stupid friend I mentioned is her son. His name is Sendhan Amudan.”
“Hmm. That’s was I thought,” she nodded, recognizing the name.
“I took his help and rode with him in the direction of Pazhayarai. Half way, a posse of Chinna Pazhuvettarayar’s forces spotted us and started chasing us. I had no intention of getting caught before the job that I had taken was completed in full. When I reached the Kudamurutti River, I got down and asked him to ride on. I told him that it would fool the followers. If caught, I asked him to tell them that I fell into the river and drowned.”
“This stupid boy behaves like a descendent of Raja Harishchandran. He would not tell a lie. So I had to tie him to the horse and I jumped into the river. And the river currents took over me. These currents are very strong indeed. Eventually, I was able to catch hold of a low lying branch of a tree, and survived.”
“Devi, do you know what I was thinking about when I was being dragged down by those currents?”
“How would I know? Perhaps Gajendra Moksham?”
“I saw some golden colored fish in the water. Their eyes reminded me of the eyes of the beautiful Chozha kingdom ladies. One can even persevere and escape the strong currents of the Chozha rivers, but a man can never escape from those enchanting eyes.”
At that time, the sound of beautiful music wafted through the air. One of the hand-maidens was singing in a divine voice. There was percussion and a flute accompanying the music.
Vandiyathevan and Kundavai stood enchanted by the music until the song ended. After the music ended, she said, “My hand-maidens would soon start searching for me. What did you want to meet me for?”
Vandiyathevan handed over the palm leaf that his master at Kanchi had asked him to deliver to his sister Kundavai.
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