Book 3 | Chapter 3 | The Owl Hoots
She stared into the ocean. The boat in which Pazhuvettarayar had left, was nearing Parthibendran’s ship.
“Devi, tell me what you want from me?”
Thoughts flitted through his mind. He was thinking of how this old General could even think of taking this lovely lady, who could very well be his daughter, or even grand-daughter, as his wife. He would do anything to free her from his clutches.
She sighed a sigh of relief when the Pazhuvettarayar climbed aboard the ship. “I was worried till he reached the ship safely. He is getting old. Did you see how much loyalty that he has to the Chozha kingdom? Did you see how he got broken when he heard the news about the Prince from you? Do you think the Prince could have escaped?”
“I doubt it, Devi. Anyone escaping with his life from that squall would be a miracle. Such is fate.”
“It is not fate. It is the greed of that venomous snake, the Princess Kundavai. Did you know that she had great belief in astrology? Apparently, it was written that the Prince would become Emperor of a very large kingdom.”
She smiled wryly. “I wonder how she will react when she hears this news.” She laughed a manic laugh.
“Anyway, I need a favour from you. There is talk in the town that, after the Pazhuvettarayar married me, there was a lot of political confusion. I need your help to prove that these are just rumours.”
“It is not me creating any confusion. The Princess is the one who has been incensing all the vassal kings. She wants Prince Arulmozhi to ascend the throne. Did you know that the King himself is ready to give the kingdom to Madhuranthakan?”
“Is that so, Devi? That is surprising.”
“That is why he had ordered Arulmozhi to be arrested and brought back. Now that the Prince is no more, there can be peace in the kingdom. Aditya Karikalan could perhaps take the Northern regions and the Southern parts could be given to Madhuranthakan.”
“Why are you telling me all this? I really do not care about the division of this great kingdom.”
“I thought you were a loyal friend to Aditya Karikalan?”
“That was until today morning, Devi. I am done with working, fighting, and living for somebody else. From today on, I am going to live for myself. I have decided this after seeing you. Please do not ask me to participate in this kingdom division politics. Ask me anything else. Ask me to dive to the deepest depths and bring you the biggest pearls. Ask me to climb the Meru mountain and get you the Sanjeevi herbs. Ask me to bring down the moon and hold it for you as a looking glass.”
She laughed loudly.
“Ayya, the Princess already thinks I am half mad. Please do not exaggerate that notion. The entire kingdom thinks that I am the one who has brought bad luck to it. Some people also think that I am the one who is poisoning the thoughts of Madhuranthakan. I do not want to die with such a bad name.”
“Why do you talk about you dying, Devi?”
“Pallava-kumara, do you believe in palmistry?”
“Show me your palms, Devi.”
He looked at her palms intently for a bit. “Has anyone else looked at your palms before?”
“Yes. Princess Kundavai once looked at my palms and said I would die at a young age.”
“She is right. But she has given a novice reading. What these lines also say is that, beyond your short lifespan, you will have a rebirth and live a joyous life. These lines say that this joyous life will be given to you by a warrior who washed up the shores of an ocean, and who will do anything for you.”
He clasped her hands and took it to his eyes. She shuddered and quickly removed her hands from his. “Chi chi! What are you doing?”
“Please pardon me. I forgot that these were your hands. I was thinking they were two lotus flowers.”
“If the General had been here to see this, you would have been at the end of his spear now.”
“I need you to bring your friend and leader, Aditya Karikalan to Sambuvarayar’s palace. The vassal king has a daughter. I would like to marry her off to the Prince. This will solve half the problems in the kingdom. And then we will split the kingdom into two; and that will solve all my problems. I will live the remainder of my life, as fate wills it.”
“I will gladly bring my leader to Sambuvarayar’s palace. I still cannot fathom why you married this old General.”
“I did it out of my own free will. At that time, I wished for a life in a palace. The power. The feeling of royalty.”
“I do not believe this, my lady.”
“I have been disgraced and embarrassed enough times when I was young. I have gone through a lot, sir. I have even been segregated from the royal kids and been told that I am poor and cannot mix with the folks who live in palaces. All this was burning like embers within me.”
“Who did that to you?”
“Can’t you guess? It is that sadistic woman, who is also the Princess of this kingdom.”
“I will kill her before I die, Devi.”
“Ha! I think God punished her already. He has taken away her younger brother and her lover in one swift blow.”
“I do not think it is enough punishment for her.”
“Then, do what I requested you to do. Taking away the kingdom from her family’s clutches will torment her.”
“I will definitely do this for you. How will you reward me?”
“Anything. I will give you anything that a chaste Tamil girl can give.”
“I am hearing of some Arab nations, where a married woman can divorce her partner using some rituals, and can remarry.”
“Hmm. I have heard about these nations too. I have day-dreamed of these situations too, but let us just talk about what is practical. My husband’s boat is returning. Let us talk later. Come to Thanjavur with us – either as a guest, or a prisoner.”
The boat with the Pazhuvettarayar reached the shore. And the old man walked towards them. One could see the anger on his face. He, obviously, could not stand the sight of the two of them having a leisurely conversation.
Nandini and Parthibendran stood up as he neared them.
“Naada, did you search the ship? Did you question the sailors? Is what this man is saying true?”
“Yes. What he is saying is true. The Prince of this great kingdom, the one who is loved by every citizen of this country. He is gone. And he is gone, because of this wretched man.”
“Sire. Please don’t blame me for the death of the Prince. The person who is responsible for this act is the vile royal princess.”
This incensed the Pazhuvettarayar even more, because he thought the warrior was referring to Nandini. The old man roared and reached out to a spear nearby.
Nandini stopped him.
The Pazhuvettarayar blurted out – “Did you not hear what he said about you? Why are you stopping me?”
Parthibendran calmly interjected, “Sire. Am I a fool to be accusing the Pazhuvoor Queen like that? I was alluding to the Mohini Pissaasu at Pazhayarai. She is the one who sent a secret message through Vandhiyathevan asking the Prince to return. It was because of that same Vallavarayan that the Prince jumped into the water. If not for all this, the Prince would have been here with us.”
The Pazhuvettarayar felt a little embarrassed at his act of jumping to a conclusion too quickly, yet he recovered admirably.
“You still have a part to play in the Prince’s death. How could you have let him take that boat, in the squall? Go to hell. Do not step in front of me, ever again.”
“Naadha, I think he should come to Thanjavur with us. It would be best if he narrates the incident directly to the Emperor. It would be more credible.”
The Pazhuvettarayar agreed and asked the Pallava Prince – “Do you agree to come to Thanjavur with us?”
“Yes, of course, sire. I would like to come to Thanjavur and narrate the incidents as it happened to the Emperor. I do not want any unwanted accusations on me.”
“Hmm, okay. Let us start to Thanjavur right away.”
Just at that time, they heard the sound of an owl hooting. Twice. The two of them did not notice the reaction on Nandini’s face.
The Pazhuvettarayar looked in the direction of the sound and commented, “These forests of Kodikkarai are indeed weird. Did you two hear the sound of an owl in broad daylight?”
Nandini replied, “Naada, I think we should wait for one more day before we leave. Perhaps we might get a chance to see the Prince along the coast. Should we not give some more time?”
“Hmm. You are right Devi. We should wait for a day more. I will also post guards along the coastline to lookout for the Prince.”Page Break