Book 2 | Chapter 46 | Filled with Sorrow

The Prince whispered in the elephant’s ears again. The elephant kneeled down. Poonkuzhali and the Prince jumped down from the elephant and ran towards the ship. They tried calling out to see if there were anyone around. They waded in the water around the ship to check if there was any sign of life in the ship. The ship had run aground deep. It would take a lot of effort to pull it to shore or to relaunch it in the water. The Prince pulled out the Tiger Flag from beneath the tattered sail. One could see the anguish in the eyes of the Prince, when he held the flag.

“Are you sure this is one of the ships that you had seen earlier?”

“Yes, Prince. This does look like one of them. Maybe, the other ship sank completely.”

The Prince could sense joy in Poonkuzhali’s voice. “Why are you so happy saying so?”

“Well, the ships and men who came to arrest you are dead and drowned. Why would it not make me happy?”

“There is something catastrophic that has happened here. The fact that one of the Chozha Navy’s ships has met this fate saddens me. I am also very confused as to how this might have happened. Our Chozha captains are very experienced. Why would they bring such a large ship so close to land? I am sure that the other ship, seeing this, would have docked somewhere farther away, where there is more depth. Where are the men and the sailors?”

Darkness was beginning to set in. They left the elephant near the ship, and started walking towards the sea.

“Perhaps, they have anchored the ship out at sea. These trees are blocking the view. I would like to see the sea once, before it becomes fully dark.”

They reached the sea front quickly. All they could see was the empty coral green sea meeting the indigo sky. There was no ship that they could see, as far as the eye could see. They turned and started walking back to the destroyed ship that they had seen earlier.

“Poonkuzhali, I will never forget your help in getting here. But I think it is now time to go our own ways. I have decided to stay back near this ship. I am sure the General and the others will find their way here. I will discuss with them and decide my next step. I do not think there is anything left for you to do here anymore. Please search for your craft and go your way. Please do remember what I had told you about the information to pass on to the Emperor.”

She sighed. “Yes. Sire. Let me part ways right here.”

“Are you angry with me?”

“Of course not. Why would I be angry with you? I am not that foolish a person to get angry with the Prince himself. I am just feeling tired. I have not slept for more than two days.”

The Prince saw the tiredness in her eyes. She could barely keep herself up.

“And how long has it been since you ate?”

“That too was more than two days ago.”

“How foolish of me! We had all stuffed ourselves earlier today, and it did not even strike me to ask you if you had eaten.”

“Let us go to the ship. I saw some food grains scattered. I will cook something. You can eat and sleep on the ship tonight. The elephant and I will keep guard on the shore.”

He took her by the shoulder and helped her walk towards the ship. Tears rolled down her eyes when she thought about the compassion that the Prince was showering on her.

As they neared the ship, they could smell smoke. The smell of someone cooking tuber roots filled the air. They stopped on their tracks and proceeded very slowly forward. The Prince wondered if the people of the ship had returned. He could not see anyone. He did not hear any voices. Just the smell of cooking. They slowly went around the ship. And suddenly in front of them, they could see a fire, and someone cooking over it. It was the familiar old dumb lady. She did not look surprised when she saw them. It was as if she was expecting them. Very soon, food was ready – a grand meal of millet rice and cooked tubers.

The three of them relaxed under the beautiful moonlight on the beach. It was a humid night. Poonkuzhali pointed to the moon and said, “See the ring around the moon. It means that there is a large storm brewing.”

“I am still wondering how this lady could have reached here so soon?”

The deaf and mute lady, somehow, was able to comprehend all of this conversation. She pointed to the direction in which the Prince had left the elephant. He could now see a thoroughbred horse next to the elephant.

“Oh! She even knows how to ride a horse?”

“Of course. She can ride horses and elephants too. She can manage a boat much better than me. Sometimes, I even feel that she has the ability to fly with the wind.”

The Prince could not but continue thinking about the horse. It seemed like an Arabian horse. He wondered aloud, how it could have even come to Lanka. Poonkuzhali asked this question to the mute lady using sign language. The lady replied that the she had seen the horse climb on to the shore some time back. The horse had been shocked. She had fed him, nurtured him, and made him hers.

The Prince could see that Poonkuzhali’s eyes were half closed.

“Poonkuzhali, you should go and sleep now.”

She did not resist. She moved to a little distance away on the ship. She used one of the torn sails to cover herself, and was soon asleep.

The mute lady came and sat next to the Prince. She gently ran her frail fingers through his hair and stroked his cheeks once. The Prince did not know how to react. He gently reached out and touched her feet in a mark of respect. Tears ran down her eyes. She motioned to him to sleep, and that she will keep a look-out.

The Prince found it very hard to sleep. His thoughts kept going back to the Arab thoroughbred horse.  He dreamt of riding it through the rainbow. He dreamt of meeting the Lord Indra himself on his Airavatha. He dreamt of going to his harem. He dreamt of his sister, of Vanathi and Poonkuzhali. His body eventually succumbed to sleep.

Just as dawn was breaking, Poonkuzhali awoke to the sound of galloping hooves. She woke up with a rush only to see the dumb lady speed away. She tried to run and stop her, but the fine horse was already beyond reach. She looked back at the upper deck, where the Prince was sleeping soundly. But she heard him mumbling something. She went close to him, and could hear him say her name, in his sleep.

She gently woke him up. The Prince woke up with a start.

“You were calling my name. Do you need anything?”

The Prince smiled and said, “Did I say anything aloud? I think I must have been talking in my sleep. Well, you were singing in your sleep last night.”

She suddenly noticed something on the horizon and pointed it to the Prince. They saw a large vessel on the horizon. There was also a smaller boat with around five people on it. The Prince ran towards the beach. The ship seemed to be sailing away, and the boat seemed to be coming towards the shore. As the boat neared the shore, the Prince could see a familiar face. He could see the General, accompanied by his soldiers. But there was one face missing. Where was Vandhiyathevan? Where was the Vaanarkulam warrior?

The boat came on to the shore. The General and the others jumped ashore.

“Prince, you had us all worried. How did you survive the mad elephant? I am so glad that you are fine. Did you see the Chozha ships?”

“General, I will answer all those questions later. Where is Vandhiyathevan?”

“Oh, that young rascal? He is on board that ship.”

“But why? And whose ship is that?”

“Prince, I will let Nambi explain all that to you.”