Book 3

Book 3 | Chapter 45 | Vanathi in Danger

Akka, do you remember when I fell into the Cauvery, when I was five years old? Do you remember the lady who saved me?” 

Thambi, of course I remember. Isn’t that the reason why you are being called as Ponniyin Selvan!” 

“I met that lady in Lanka.” 

“Tell me all about her, Thambi.” 

“Not only did she save me, then, from the waters of the Cauvery, she saved me many more times, in Lanka. She saved me from extreme dangers several times. The amount of love that she showered on me was unmatchable. It is even more than your love for me, Akka.” 

“I am not surprised. My love for you is for a very greedy reason. My biggest love is this Chozha kingdom. I am showing you so much love, because I believe that you will help regain the glory of this kingdom. If you go against that goal, I might even start resenting you. But, the love that deaf and dumb lady is showing you, is pure. She is showering all the love for our father, which she has kept bottled up inside her for so many years.” 

“How did you know that she is our stepmother?” 

“From what our father said, and putting together what Vandhiyathevan told me. The fact that she should be on the throne next to our father, and she still showered you with so much love, is so pure.” 

Akka, I think she knows that I am her son, though not born to her. She cannot communicate that well, being dumb. What I know is gathered from pictures that she had painted, and showed me.” 

Akka, our father must have looked very similar to me, when he was my age.” 

“Our father was the handsomest man in the kingdom when he was your age. Our Chozha lineage had not really been called out for their looks. Our grandfather, Arinjayar wedded the daughter of the Vaidumbarayar clan, Kalyani, who was the epitome of beauty. Look at her, now. Even at her age, she is so beautiful. Our father inherited his looks from her, and also got the title – Sundara Chozhar. We take after our mother. Descendants of Thirukovilur Malayaman hate beauty. We think beauty is the enemy of courage.” 

“I do not know about the relationship between beauty and courage. But I am sure that there is no relationship between beauty and affection.” 

“Hah. Perhaps that is why Vanathi has been staring at you from behind that pillar there. Or for that matter, why is Sendhan Amudhan staring at Poonkuzhali?” 

Akka, we are digressing. I was talking about the mute lady’s affection for me.” 

Akka, what do you think about two people being exactly alike in appearance?” 

“It is definitely possible. Identical twins look alike. Sometimes mothers and daughters look alike. Rarely, even two unrelated people might look alike.” 

“Vandhiyathevan says that the Pazhuvoor Rani Nandini Devi and our stepmother look exactly alike. I have only seen Nandini when she was very young.” 

The Princess sighed. “I have seen Nandini Devi, but I have not seen our stepmother. But I believe in Vandhiyathevar. It matches what our father told me.” 

“What! Our father told you something about our stepmother?” 

“Yes. Some days back, Vanathi and I had gone to Thanjavur. One night, he told me the story of how he had taken refuge in a tiny island near Lanka. He told me about the mute girl he had fallen in love with there. He recounted how Paranthakar’s men had found him on the island, and had taken him back to the mainland.” 

“He recalled that, on the day of his coronation, when he looked out of the palace, onto the crowds, he had seen her. He had sent the Chief Minister Aniruddhar to search for her. The Minister searched all the way to Kodikkarai, and came back and said that the girl had jumped to her death into the ocean from the lighthouse. This memory has been bottled up inside him all these years, and he finally told me this tale the other day. He thinks that she is dead. He is guilt-ridden thinking that she is dead because of him.” 

Thambi, you and I have a duty to do. You need to somehow convince the mute lady and bring her to Thanjavur. We need to show her to our father, and let him know that she is not dead.” 

“That is exactly what I have been thinking too, Akka. Imagine the plight of the lady. If she was able to speak, she could pour out her woes to someone. If only she could hear, she could hear people consoling her. Imagine bottling up anger, sadness, happiness, and every other human emotion, within oneself, with no way of sharing it with anyone. I need to somehow bring her back to the mainland and take her to father. But, do you think our father would want that, Akka?” 

“Whether he wants it or not, it is our duty. Father’s guilt about our stepmother is driving him mad. He screams out loud during the nights as though having nightmares.” 

“How do you know this, Akka? Did our father tell you this?” 

“Father told me this, and so did Vanathi.” 

“How does Vanathi know about all this? Does she know anything about this?” 

“No. I will let her tell you what she saw in the palace, the other night. Anyway, you have changed so much. What happened to your manners and dignified behaviour? You have not even uttered a word to Vanathi since you came. You did not enquire about her well-being or health. Is this the respect you give to the daughter of the brave General Siriyavelar?” 

Akka, I need not enquire about her well-being. I am sure you have taken care of that.” 

“Vanathi, come here, dear girl. The Prince wants to talk to you,” called the Princess.  

Akka, why are you dreaming so? It looks like the Prince only wants to talk to the girl in the boat, over there. Perhaps he wants to return soon.” 

The Prince smiled and said, “Akka, I am glad that your friend can speak. I was afraid for a moment that she was also mute, along with the many others in our family.” 

Akka, I am unable to talk only in front of the Prince,” said Vanathi. 

The Prince laughed and said, “In Kodikkarai, there lives the brother of Poonkuzhali. He talks to everyone, but becomes silent only in front of his wife.” 

The Princess continued, “It looks like Vanathi belongs to that category too. Earlier, she used to talk so much that we had to ask her to stop talking. Ever since you went to Lanka the first time, she has become so reticent. She keeps to herself and keeps mumbling to herself. Anyway, Vanathi – please tell the Prince about what you saw the other night in the Thanjavur Palace.” 

Akka, please ask the Kodumbalur Princess to sit down and tell what happened. If General Siriyavelar comes to know that we made Vanathi stand for so long, he would feel upset. Every time I met him, he kept enquiring about the Princess.” 

“I sent a message about Vanathi through Vandhiyathevan. Did he not tell you?” 

Vanathi retorted, “Akka, he must have told the Prince, but the Prince would not have noticed it. He has so many other things to think about.” 

The Prince chuckled and continued, “Well, truth be told, I have been very confused and anxious ever since I saw your message to me, Akka. After this tropical fever, my hearing also seems to have gotten impacted a bit.” 

Vanathi narrated what she had seen the other night. She spoke about her walking around the palace terrace, and hearing the loud pleas of the Emperor. She mentioned what she saw in the Emperor’s room. 

Akka, there is one thing that I am sure Vanathi is missing in her story. I am sure she must have fainted after seeing all this.” 

The Prince and Princess laughed, and Vanathi put her head down in shame. The Princess embraced Vanathi and said, “Adiye, please go and take a walk along the canal. I need to talk with the Prince. He will be here for a few days. You can talk with him later.” 

Vanathi skipped and jumped in joy towards the canal. It had been a while since Princess Kundavai had seen her so happy.  

Akka, what do you think Vanathi saw in the Emperor’s room? It could not have been a hallucination, because Vanathi seemed to have seen it too.” 

“I do not think this was a hallucination. It was a midnight drama. And the main character in it must have been the Pazhuvoor Queen, Nandini.” 

“Why does she do these things?” 

“Well, Nandini has always had doubts regarding her birth. She clearly remembers the time when the Emperor fainted when he saw her. Perhaps, she is doing this to psych the Emperor and get something out of him.” 

“Do you think she knows, Akka?” 

“I do not know. No one knows what is going inside Nandini’s mind. I pity the Pazhuvettarayar. We spoke about beauty just a little while ago. If you rank women by beauty, she is at the top. Every man whom she sets sight on, falls for her. Pazhuvettarayar, Madhuranthakan, Thirumalayappar, Kandanmaran, and lastly, just recently, Parthibendran. The Chief Minister rarely sees her, just for this fear. She is the reason why Aditya Karikalan does not come to Thanjavur.” 

Thambi, there is only one person, who has escaped from the web of Nandini Devi…” 

“Are you referring to the Vanarkula Veerar, Vandhiyathevar?” 

“Yes. He is the one. I have sent him to Kanchi now. Nandini Devi has invited Aditya Karikalan to a meeting at the Kadambur Palace. I have sent Vandhiyathevan to stop Karikalan from accepting. And even if they do meet, I have instructed Vandhiyathevan to ensure nothing untoward happens. Karikalan does not know that Nandini is our stepsister. I do not know if Nandini knows this either.” 

“Are you sure that she is our stepsister, Akka?” 

“I am reasonably sure about this. I used to hate Nandini since we were kids. I used to feel jealous of her beauty. I had forbidden you and Karikalan to talk to her. When she went to Pandiyanadu, and then later, when she came back and married Pazhuvettarayar, my hatred grew manifold. I insulted her many times. I have now changed my mind. I will seek forgiveness the next time I meet her.” 

“I will not allow that. You have not wronged her. It was she who hated you, all this while.” 

Thambi, you said that your heart weeps for our stepmother in Lanka, who has been roaming around like a mad woman – she, who should have been sitting on a throne and enjoying a royal life. I feel the same for Nandini. For no fault of hers, she had to grow up with such hardships, and is now wedded to Pazhuvettarayar.” 

“Why do you think all this happened, Akka? Why does our father think that our stepmother is dead? Why did Nandini have to grow up like an orphan?” 

“I have been drowning in these thoughts, day and night, Thambi. I think there are two people who might know about all this. One is the Royal Matron Sembiyan Maadevi. I feel she knows some parts of this story. The other is our Chief Minister, Aniruddha Brahmarayar. I think he knows everything. Both of them will never tell us, if we ask. I feel that Aniruddhar’s disciple, Alwarkadiyan Nambi might know some parts of this story too. Anyway, we have time to find out more about that later.” 

“Right now, the most important thing to do is to ensure that the Pazhuvoor Rani does not bring any danger to our kingdom. Ever since Vandhiyathevar told me about the long sword with the fish insignia that Nandini worships, I have been fearful that she might do something very dangerous.” 

Akka, it is good that you sent Vandhiyathevar to Kanchi. Should we not go to Thanjavur and tell our father everything? At least his mental anguish will reduce.” 

“No. I am leaving for Thanjavur in two days. It is best for you to stay in the Choodamani Viharam for some more time.” 

“Why are you saying so? Why are you insisting that I stay in hiding, and not follow the Emperor’s orders?” 

Thambi, the citizens of the kingdom are already angry at the Pazhuvettarayar, at Madhuranthakan, and even the Emperor for ordering to capture you and bring you here. If you do come now, emotions will run high, and we cannot predict what might happen. They might want to crown you as the King immediately. People might siege the Thanjavur fort and the palace. The King will just get saddened further. I had earlier written to you to come here, due to a danger in the kingdom. I am now thinking, if it might even be better for you to head back to Lanka.” 

“That will not happen, Akka. I will not go without seeing the Emperor. If you think I should come surreptitiously to Thanjai, so be it. I have to see the Emperor though.” 

“Are you sure you want to come, Arulmozhi Varma?” 

“Yes. I want to meet the Emperor. I want to tell him who the Kaveri Amman who saved me was. I want to get his permission to attempt to bring her back.” 

“Ok. I cannot stop you. Please stay in the Choodamani Viharam for at least a week more. I will go to Thanjai. I will tell the Emperor that you are back, and I will send word for you. However, before you do anything, I want you to promise me something. That is one of the reasons that I came to meet you.” 

“What is it, Akka? Have I ever disobeyed you?” 

“Aditya Karikalan has not married, and I do not think he will either. Emperor Sundara Chozhan’s lineage has to carry on, and I want you to ensure it.” 

Akka, I will promise you this, if you give me the permission to choose my own mate.” 

“Hah. When have we disagreed on such matters? Why are you making this caveat?” 

“The person I marry has to support me when I achieve all my dreams.” 

“Surprising. You want to achieve your dreams, with the support of a lady.” 

Akka, Ayyo. Help.” It was Vanathi’s voice.