Book 2 | Chapter 53 | Music of Refuge

The General had waited until the Prince had boarded Parthibendran’s ship, and then heaved a sigh of relief.

“I am relieved now. Parthibendran will take the Prince to Kanchi. We should start making arrangements to take our forces to Thanjavur.”

“Nambi – what are your plans?”

“Sire, I still have one more task that my master, the Chief Minister, has given me.”

“And what would that task be?”

“If I were to meet an old deaf and mute lady, I was to somehow convince her and bring her to Thanjavur.”

The General smiled. “That is an impossible task. Instead of that, you could even lock the famed cyclones of Lanka in a jar and take them to Thanjavur.”

“I understand and realise that. But I have been given orders and I shall try.”

“Hmm, Nambi, please call Poonkuzhali here. I would like to talk to her.”

Nambi motioned to Poonkuzhali, who walked towards the General.

“Girl, you have done great service by giving important news. I will reward you handsomely soon.”

The General paused for a bit. “But beware, do not get too close to the Prince. It is not good for you. You should realise who you are, and who he is. Stick to casting your net in the sea and catching fish. Do not even attempt to cast your net on the Prince. This is my final warning.”

Tears welled up in her eyes. She walked away, slowly at first, and then started running away. She glanced towards the shore, where she saw the mute Queen talking to Nambi. She thought about the cruel words that humans utter. Do they not even care how it hurts others? It is probably best to be born dumb and mute instead. She hated humans. She hated their words. Their thoughts.

She ran towards where she had hidden her boat. She wanted to take the boat and row out into the middle of the sea. She wanted to stop rowing, and let the waves caress her boat. She wanted to be far away from humans. The sounds of the sea would calm her down. She would then, hopefully, forget the cruel words that the General had just uttered to her.

She reached her boat. She hugged her boat, and pushed the boat into the water.

“I do not care for the Prince. Let the old General take care of him. I have my boat. I have my oars. I have strength in my arms. I have Samudra-Rajan, who will take care of me.”

She looked at the horizon and predicted the bad gale. She reached Boodhatheevu just before the gale started. She pulled her boat ashore and tied it safely. She ran up the steps of the dilapidated stupa on the island. She wanted a good view of the gale. She saw the tops of the coconut trees sway in the wild wind. She saw the dark clouds approach. She got drenched in the rain. She enjoyed every bit of it. She hoped that the Prince would have reached Kodikkarai, or maybe even Nagapattinam. She did not want to think about him. Why should she think of him? The General’s words still stung her.

After a while, she climbed down the steps of the stupa, and lay down under a canopy of trees. She slept fitfully. She dreamt of casting a net in the sea, and the Prince getting caught in the net. She dreamt of being reborn as a fish. Eventually, she sank into deep sleep.

When dawn broke, she habitually looked out at the sea. She saw a broken piece of driftwood, and a man hanging on to it. The wood drifted towards the shore. The man identified himself as a lad from the nearby village. His friend and he got caught in the cyclonic storm. He had lost his friend to the storm. He also said that he saw two ships caught in the gale. One of the ships had gotten struck by lightning and had sunk. The other ship disappeared when the first ship sank.

Poonkuzhali’s heart sank. Could it have been the ship in which the Prince was travelling? Should she go out and see if there were any survivors?

Her first instinct made her run towards her boat and push it into the sea. She rowed hard against the currents, into the ocean. She rowed in the direction of Kodikkarai. After a little while, the current eased, and it was not hard for Poonkuzhali to row. She sang her familiar sailing songs and rowed at a more relaxed pace.

The Prince and Vandhiyathevan held tight to the mast the entire night. The waves tossed them up and down. Vandhiyathevan had lost all hope. He felt that they had been floating there for days together, whereas in reality, they had been there only for a night.

“Sire, I am dying of thirst. Please untie me, I want to drown and die. I cannot take this any further.”

The Prince knew that Vandhiyathevan had to be silenced. He gave a heavy blow on Vandhiyathevan’s head, and he lost consciousness.

When he regained consciousness, the sun was up.

“Vandhiyatheva, I think we are close to the shore now. I think I saw the top of a coconut tree some time back.”

All of a sudden, they heard the sound of someone singing.

“Prince, that is definitely Poonkuzhali’s voice. Am I dreaming?”

He was not. It was indeed Poonkuzhali. She could not believe what she was seeing either.

The Prince jumped on her craft first, and then pulled Vandhiyathevan in.