Book 2 | Chapter 43 | I am Guilty

The Prince asked again, “Samudra-Kumari, do you remember me?”

“Yes, I remember you, Sire.”

“Aha, I am so glad that you are talking now. Please tell me more about what you told the General. Did you see the two battleships anchored near the coast?”

“Yes, Sire. I saw them with my own eyes.”

“And then you anchored your boat in a small rivulet nearby. You went closer to where the men from the ships had disembarked. And you overheard what they were saying. Once you heard what they said, you went in search of the General to let him know immediately. This is what the General told me. Is it entirely true?”

“Yes. The General has conveyed this to you accurately.”

“How did you find the General?”

“I had heard that the General was in Maathottam. Then midway there, I heard that he had moved to Mahindalay. I found him there. What a difficult task it is to get an audience with the General!”

“Hmm. It is not that easy to get an audience with the General himself.”

“Samudra-Kumari, can you repeat to me what you overheard the soldiers talking about?”

“They spoke about arresting you and taking you back to the mainland.”

“Did they speak about whose orders it was, to arrest me?”

“I did not believe what they said. I thought it might have been the Pazhuvettarayars.”

“Samudra-Kumari, I will hear your opinion later. Tell me what they said.”

“They said that it was the Emperor’s orders.”

“And did they talk about the reason why they wanted to arrest me?”

“It seemed that you were colluding with the local rulers of Lanka, and planning to become an Emperor of Lanka. I felt so angry that I wanted to slit their throats right there.”

“It is a good thing that you did no such thing. Do you not know that you should treat the messengers of the Emperor with respect? Anyway, did you hear anything else from them?”

“They were also saying that the General should not know of this plan. They said, if the General knew, he would let you escape. They said, they should find the Prince directly, show him the orders, and take him back directly.”

“Samudra-Kumari, you have done me a big favour by telling me all this. Can you please step away a little and wait? I need to discuss something with these people. Please do not go too far away.”

Samudra-Kumari moved a few steps away.

“General, you have been a loyal friend of the royal family. I have treated you like my father, and likewise you have also treated me like your own son. Please let me do my duty. Do not come in my way.”

The Prince looked at Parthibendran: “Prince, you are also a loyal ally, and a very good friend of my brother’s. Please let me do my duty.”

The General replied, “Prince, I do not understand. All my life, I have fought on the battlefield. I am not one who can understand subtle statements. Please state clearly what your duty is, and what you are going to do.”

“My duty, right now, is to seek the soldiers who are seeking me. I will surrender myself to them, and let them execute my Emperor’s orders.”

Parthibendran retorted, “That will never happen. Not when I am alive.”

The General motioned him to calm down. “Prince, while you might have a duty to honour, I, as the General, have my duty as well. Please listen to me. Last year, when the Emperor chose to send you as the Commander of the Southern forces to Lanka, he pulled me aside and told me something. He said that, by sending you away from the palace, he feels like half his life is going away. But he felt that you should also earn the title of a brave prince, just like your elder brother. He entrusted your safety to me. He said that my primary responsibility was to make sure you were safe. The Emperor was so dear to you. I do not believe that he would have ordered your arrest. The fact that you would collude with the locals to become Lankan Emperor is laughable.”

“I do not know if you would believe it or not, but it is true. I did try to effect a coup to take over the Lankan Kingdom.”

Vandhiyathevan interjected, “All lies! General, last night, in an underground secret meeting, the Buddhist monks offered the Lankan throne to the Prince, and he refused to accept it. Nambi and I were witnesses to this event.”

The Prince laughed. “Vandhiyatheva, do you think I would effect a secret coup with witnesses? Maybe I refused only because there were witnesses! If you do not believe me, check with Nambi. Ask him about the message that Aniruddhar sent through him. The message was that, “The Buddhist monks will offer you the throne. Refuse it, but make sure you have witnesses to this event.”

Everyone in the group was shell-shocked, trying to comprehend what was going on.

The Prince continued. “It is true that I had a desire to rule this land. And the desire was stoked by my sister. She kept telling me that I was born to rule, and I should go to Lanka and take over the kingdom. So perhaps there is a reason for the Emperor asking for my arrest.”

“Please be patient and hear me out. That very thought of you ruling Lanka was originally from the Emperor himself. He had mentioned it to me multiple times. I have also seen him mention this to the Princess.”

“If the Emperor knows all this, then why should I not meet him directly? I will tell him all that has happened, and let him decide on the next course of action.”

Parthibendran got up, “General, we are not getting to the point. Are you going to tell him? Or should I?”

The General moved closer to the Prince. “There is one more thing that I need to tell you. I was hesitating to say this, because of your confused state of mind.”

“Prince, you know about Pazhuvettarayar’s marriage to the young queen. Her name is Nandini. She is an evil woman, and is versed in the occult magic arts. She has the Pazhuvettarayar entwined in her little finger and is making him do her bidding. It is unfortunate.”

“I have heard of this before.”

“You have heard about Nandini’s influence on the Pazhuvettarayar. But now, we fear that she is exercising her occult influence on the Emperor as well.”

“General, be wary. I shall not tolerate anyone talking ill about the Emperor’s character. I shall obey his orders, immaterial of what state of mind he was in, when he issued the orders.”

“I heard something about Nandini just yesterday night from Parthibendran. And I think you should hear it too.”

“Three years ago, near Madurai, when the final battle against Veerapandiyan was being fought, your brother Karikalan, this fine man here, his friend and confidante Parthibendran, and I, plotted every move to get rid of the Pandiya army. The army was routed, but Veerapandiyan fled. This was the second time he was fleeing from the battlefield. This time, the three of us had sworn that we would not return without his head. We started hunting for him.”

“The three of us eventually found him hiding in a hut near a temple. Parthibendran and I stood guard outside, while Karikalan went inside the hut. He successfully beheaded the Pandiya king and we jubilantly headed back to our camp.”

“Parthibendran and I did not know what happened inside the hut. We recently got to know that it was a girl who had given refuge to Veerapandiyan. She had stood between Karikalan and her lover, the Pandiya King. Karikalan had kicked her aside and beheaded the King.”

The General said in a slow voice, “Prince, that girl inside the hut – she was Nandini. She later trapped the seventy-year-old Pazhuvettarayar in love, and is now living in Thanjavur as the Pazhuvur Queen. Can we not reason out why and what she is doing with the Pazhuvettarayar? She is here to take revenge for Veerapandian.”

“You can ask Vandhiyathevan about her character and her intentions. You can check with Nambi about the group of people who owe allegiance to the Pandya King, and have sworn to overthrow the Chozha empire. That group is being funded by Nandini.”

“Unfortunately, I am now hearing that she is trying to influence the Emperor as well. I hear that the Emperor is also considering Madhuranthakan as the suitable heir. In this state, I would not recommend you to go and meet the Emperor.”

“General, all of this has just strengthened my resolve to go and see my father. At this time, when he most requires me, I should be by his side.”

He looked at Samudra-Kumari, who was leaning against a pillar at a distance. “Samudra-Kumari, the news you brought me has done me a great deal of good. Can you do me a favour?”

“Prince, I would do what you command.”

“Take me swiftly to the place where the two battleships are anchored.”

“Girl, refuse to do so,” roared the General.

While she knew the logical thing to do would be to refuse, her heart told her to accept. Something inside her told her that, if she accepts, she would get to spend a couple of days in the close company of the Prince.

“Samudra-Kumari, why are you silent? You will not help me? Should I find the way by myself?”

Samudra-Kumari stared in silence, unable to decide. If she agreed, she could spend a few days with the Prince, but that meant losing him forever. All those around her tried persuading her not to agree. She finally said, “Prince, I am ready to show you the way.”

The General cleared his throat and stepped forward. “Prince, I refuse to let you go alone with this girl. It is my responsibility to keep you safe, until you find the battleships. I shall accompany you until then.”