Book 3 | Chapter 13 | Poisonous Dart
Vandhiyathevan was startled. The voice reminded him of the Devarattam at Kadambur, where he had first met him. He remembered all that the Devaralan and the magician, Ravidasan had told him on the ship. These were terrible, terrible men. To get caught with one of them in this desolate place, at this time, would be really bad. Should he flee? He looked around on all sides, and wondered if it would be a good idea.
At a distance, he saw a fire, most likely a cremation ground. And the fire, most likely, was a burning corpse. The fleeting thought of the impermanence of man, made him decide to listen to the Devaralan. Could he have been the person, who slid into the shadows, at the blacksmith’s place? That beautiful sword with the ‘fish’ symbol must have also been his. He thought of talking to Devaralan, and seeing if he could get some information out of him.
“Aha. How did you find yourself here?” he asked.
The Devaralan replied, “That is a question that I should be asking you. We tied you to a burning ship and left. How is it that you are here?”
“I did mention to you earlier that I also knew magic.”
“Haha, I used my magic to find out that you were headed this way, and hence I came here to wait for you.”
“And, why may I ask, are you waiting for me?’
“Why don’t you use your magic to find that out and let me know.”
Vandhiyathevan thought for a minute, “The magician and you told me a lot of your secrets when we were on the ship. You are probably wondering if I have told these secrets to anyone else already?”
Devaralan roared in laughter. “The minute you tell those secrets to anyone, your tongue will cease to function. You will become mute.”
Vandhiyathevan shuddered. The two mute women from Thanjavur and Lanka came to his mind.
He brought his horse to a slow trot and stopped near Devaralan.
Devaralan caught hold of the reins of Vandhiyathevan’s horse, and boomed, “Where is Ravidasan?”
Vandhiyathevan was stumped and kept quiet.
“Hmm. Where is that girl, Poonkuzhali? Can’t you tell me at least that?”
Vandhiyathevan was at a loss for words. He kept mum, fearing that anything he said might be taken out of context.
“Were you singing that beautiful love song for Poonkuzhali?”
Vandhiyathevan stuttered, “No, no, definitely not.”
“Hmm. The person, to whom you were singing the love song for, wants to see you. Look over there,” and he pointed to a dark silhouette a little further ahead.
Vandhiyathevan saw the covered palanquin with the palm tree insignia. He got off his horse and stepped forward.
Devaralan made a screeching noise, and on cue, a dozen men jumped out of the darkness, from behind the bushes, and pinned him to the ground. They tied his hands and legs with cloth. Someone blindfolded him. Another one forcibly took his sword. They tossed him into the palanquin. Quickly, they lifted the palanquin and started walking fast. He heard someone take his horse and could hear them walking along with the palanquin.
Vandhiyathevan had been startled and could not even think for those brief moments. Once the palanquin started moving, he started slowly getting to his senses and started thinking about his next steps.
His blindfold slipped down easily. He thought it would not be too difficult to slip out of the bonds tying his hands and legs. It would not be impossible to jump the half a dozen men behind the palanquin and flee with his horse.
There was a uniquely sweet smell surrounding him in the palanquin. He could not fathom what it was, but it was intoxicating. His mind was playing tricks on him. He now thought it might not be a bad idea to meet Nandini once more. He wanted to see what she wanted from him. He also wanted to know the truth behind the mute queen in Lanka, looking similar to her.
His head felt dizzy. Was he feeling sleepy? It could not be. He had slept enough earlier in the day. He soon realised that it was not sleep, but some intoxicant meant to make him faint. He tried freeing his legs and hands, but could not. He tried rolling to see if he could roll out of the palanquin. He could not move. He passed out.
When he awoke, he found himself in the middle of a large room. There was a very pleasing fragrance here as well. But it was a different fragrance. He got up and sat.
Just at that time, the door opened, and Nandini walked in.
He stood staring at her. He stood taking in the beauty of the Pazhuvoor Queen. He stood transfixed wondering how similar the mute queen that he had seen in Lanka was, to this lady in front of him. It was as if the mute queen had been bedecked in fine clothes and jewellery.
“Ayya, you are a very nice man,” she said in a sarcastic tone. “You left my palace without even telling me. I helped you get into the Thanjavur fort by giving you the palm-insignia ring. You did not even bother to give that ring back. Can you at least give that back to me now?”
Vandhiyathevan flushed in shame and said, “Devi, General Boodhi Vikramakesari confiscated that ring in Lanka. I am now unable to return that ring to you. Please forgive me.”
She gasped, “You gave it to those whom I hate the most.”
“Devi. I did not give it out of my own volition. It was taken by force.”
“Hah. A Vaanarkula warrior gave in to force?”
“Just like I was brought here, Devi.”
“Think for a moment before you speak, sir. Was it completely by force? Did you not think about jumping off the palanquin at all during the journey?”
Vandhiyathevan gasped for an answer.
“I came out of my volition. I wanted to find out why you wanted to see me.”
“Hmm. I wanted the ring back.”
“Is that all?”
She thought for a moment, “You were inside that treasury tunnel the other night?”
“You thought I did not know? Of course, I knew. The Periya Pazhuvettarayar also knew. He had instructed the soldier to kill you there itself. Once he stepped away, I changed the instruction to the soldier. Your good-looking friend got impacted. Else, your bones would have found a spot near the heaps of pearls in the corner.”
Vandhiyathevan’s throat dried up.
He started saying something, but she interrupted. “I do not need you to thank me. That is not why I told you all this. I wanted to warn you to not attempt entering that tunnel again. It is now heavily guarded.”
“I have no intention of going that way, Devi.”
“Yes, I know. You do not have the courtesy to thank people who help you. Your friend, Kandanmaran – I nursed him to better health in my palace and sent him home. I hope you are satisfied with the treatment meted out to your friend. Your other companion – the Vaidhiyar’s son. You handed him over to the soldiers and you fled from Kodikkarai. Did you even have the courtesy to check what happened to him?”
Every sentence from her pricked him like poisoned darts.
“Devi, I was intending to ask you about the Vaidhiyar’s son.”
“I can tell you about him. But I need to know what happened to Prince Arulmozhi who started with you from Lanka.”
Vandhiyathevan froze again, realising the true reason for this discussion.
“I cannot talk to you about that.”
She laughed, mocking his statement in a sarcastic tone.
“And how is your lover?”
Vandhiyathevan retorted back – “Oh Queen? Who are you talking about? Please speak carefully.”
“I am not talking about the Pazhayarai Princess. She will not even look at you now. I am talking about that boat-girl, who took you to Lanka and brought you back.”
“Poonkuzhali is not my lover. She herself showed me her lovers. She took me to the sulphur pits of Kodikkarai, and said that the Kollivai Pisaasus are her lovers.”
“She is a lucky one. Her lovers are bright illusions. Whereas, I have only dark thoughts surrounding my heart. Dark thoughts like the aimless bats fluttering on the ceiling of a dark mandapam. The dark beings torture me and cloud my heart.”
And she suddenly looked here and there with her fiery eyes.
“Devi, please calm down.”
“Who are you to tell me to calm down?”
“I am a poor soldier from the Vaanar clan.”
“Hmm. I do not know who I am? I am a cursed woman in this cursed earth. I do have one hidden warning message that the Gods have given me, though. Take a look at this.”
And she showed him a sword from the corner of the room. It was the same sword that was refurbished at the blacksmith.
“What a beautiful sword, Rani. It is a royal sword. A sword for a very brave person. Do tell me how you got this sword, Devi. And what hidden warning message is it that Gods have given to you, through this sword.”