Book 2 | Chapter 48 | Death of the Captain

It was the mute queen. The Prince rushed towards her. Poonkuzhali followed him as well. The lady motioned to Poonkuzhali, indicating to her that she had found something odd in the nearby forest, and would like the Prince to come and take a look. The Prince asked if the others could come as well. She nodded her assent.

The General and the rest of the company were still surprised at seeing the magnificent thoroughbred horse. They were left wondering as to how this lady could have gotten this fine Arabian beast. The men followed the lady on the horse. All of a sudden, there was a clearing in the forest and there was a small inlet of water that had formed. All around this body of water were countless bodies of dead soldiers. The stench of rotting flesh and dried blood was nauseating.

The Prince yelled, “Quick, check everyone. Is anyone here still alive?”

The others began to check each and everybody to see if there was life.

The mute queen motioned for the Prince to follow her. They walked a little further down, where they saw a heavily wounded soldier, propped up against a tree. He was gored so badly that it was hard to believe that this being was a human. Blood covered most of his exposed body. His eyes were open. There was life. His mouth quivered as if to say something.

“Ah, is it the Prince himself? Sire, please listen to what I am about to say, for I do not have much longer to live. I have gotten the punishment that I deserve, for undertaking a task that I never should have. I was asked to arrest you and bring you to the mainland. Here is the order scroll.”

“But, how could it be your misdeed? You followed orders. In fact, I rushed here so that I could go with you, to fulfil the Emperor’s wish.”

“No, Sire, it is your good nature that makes you talk like this. Anyway, let me tell you all that happened.”

“I started from Nagapattinam, a few days ago. I did not want to undertake this mission, but I was forced to. Before leaving, the Pazhuvettarayars had given me some strict orders. I was to dock in some desolate harbour. I was not to get in touch with the General. I was asked to then go to shore and find out where the Prince was. I was told to arrest you forcefully, if you did not come by yourself.”

“The Pazhuvettarayars sent some of their men on the ship too. Some of my sailors did not even know why we were headed to Lanka. I did not know how to tell them. You do know, Sire, how much the kingdom and its people love you.”

“Once I reached this area, I went ashore, as per my instructions, to find out where you were. I was told that you were travelling inland. By the time I returned to the ship, the Pazhuvettarayars’ men had spread the news about why we had come to Lanka. My own men turned against me, and refused to be part of the mission. They said they were either going to go and join your forces or surrender to the General, at Maathottam. In the midst of all this confusion, one of the ships had run aground. Except for about ten men, mostly the Pazhuvettarayars’ men, the remaining wanted to leave me.”

“I also came to hear that an Arab ship had sunk recently in the vicinity, and the Arab crew were searching to capture a ship to return home. So, I did not want to anchor the second ship close to the ship that had run aground. I found a deep alcove nearby and anchored the ship. Once we went ashore, I tried convincing my sailors.”

“But, before I could make any headway, there was a loud shrieking sound. A group of large, mad men ambushed us. My sailors were not ready for battle, yet, they fought valiantly. All of them lost their lives. I escaped with mortal injuries and hid. I had to tell somebody about what happened. It is solely for that reason that I have been trying to keep myself alive.”

“Ponniyin Selvare, please forgive me. I have sinned.”

“Brave soldier, you did your duty. You need not ask forgiveness for that. For fighting in battle, for the sake of your motherland, you will definitely go to Heaven. There is no doubt.”

The Prince placed his hand upon the captain’s forehead and gently stroked it. Tears rolled down the captain’s eyes and mixed with the blood on his cheeks.

The captain breathed his last.