Book 3 | Chapter 5 | Raakkammal
The Pazhuvettarayar and Parthibendran went off to stroll on the beach. Nandini stood looking at the waves.
“Rani-ma. Rani-ma,” said a voice from near the tent entrance.
“Who are you?”
“My name is Raakkammal. I am the daughter-in-law of the lighthouse keeper.”
Raakkammal took a look at Nandini’s face and could not look away for a few moments.
“What are you staring at?”
“Forgive me, my Queen. You look like someone else familiar to me. I am sure there could be nothing related to that dumb lady and you.”
“Which dumb lady are you referring to?”
“There is a deaf and dumb lady who lives in Eezhanadu. She is related to my father-in-law. She comes here sometimes. She bears an amazing resemblance to your facial features.”
“The next time she comes here, will you bring her to me?”
“Why would you want to meet her, Rani?”
“I would like to meet this lady who looks like me. There are others who have told me about her, as well.”
“It is very difficult to get her to you, Rani. She is like a mad woman. She never stays in a single place, nor does she listen to anyone.”
“If you bring her, I will reward you handsomely. Anyway, what did you come here for?”
“A few days ago, two men came here, saying that they were your men. They wished to go to Lanka. I made my husband take them.”
“Ah. Did he come back?”
“No. He has not come back. That is why I am worried.”
“Do not worry. Nothing will happen to him. If anything happens, I will take care of you. Do you know if the two men returned?”
“Yes. They did. Did you not hear the owl hooting sounds that the magician made?”
“How do you know about the magician? Are you part of his gang?”
“Yes, Rani,” said she, and made the sign of the fish with her hands.
“Ah, ok. Do you know where the magician is, now?”
“Yes. He sent me to bring you to him. He is waiting.”
“Why is he waiting? He could have come here and seen me.”
“He does not want to meet the Pallavan from Kanchipuram. He had bumped into him in Lanka, and does not want to raise any suspicion. He is now waiting in a hide-out near the Kuzhagar Kovil. I will take you there, Rani. We can tell everyone that you want to visit the temple.”
“Do we need any other persons to accompany us?”
“Not needed. If you really want, we could take Sendhan Amudhan for company.”
“Who is this Sendhan Amudhan?”
“He is the Thanjavur mute’s son.”
“Shiva Shiva! Why has the Lord cursed this family so badly?”
“Do we know of any family members of the Lankan mute lady?”
“She apparently gave birth to twins. I have tried several times to find out more about the children, but she has refused to divulge any information about them.”
“Ok. Why is the Thanjavur boy here?”
“He came searching for Poonkuzhali, who is not here now.”
“And where is Poonkuzhali now?”
“I was going to just tell you. After my husband left for Lanka with two of your men, two more men came from Thanjavur. They were also being pursued by the Pazhuvettarayar’s men. She took one of them, by nightfall, to Lanka. She has not returned since.”
“Does she know how to sail a boat?”
“She is an expert. When she is not sailing a boat, she is roaming the forests of Kodikkarai.”
“Do you think she would have died in the squall?”
“That is not possible. She can never drown. She knows the oceans too well. Moreover, some time back, I think, I saw a craft a distance away, from the top of the lighthouse. I think it might have been her.”
“I think, after seeing too many people here, she might have decided not to come ashore here, and headed for one of the canals a little westward from here, to avoid being seen. Sendhan Amudhan also felt the same way.”
Raakkammal guided Nandini carefully through the shrub forests of Kodikkarai and the treacherous quicksand, and reached the temple. The priest was surprised.
“Rani, I am surprised to see you here at this time, and that too alone, without your retinue. You could have told me. I would have been ready to welcome you.”
“This is not a time for all that, bhattare. Chozhanaadu is under a big threat. They are saying that the Prince might have been taken by the sea. I had to come and see the Lord and pray that it does not happen.”
“Do not worry, Rani. Nothing will happen to the Prince. The day and the nakshatra in which he was born – astrology dictates that he will rule the world. How can the ocean take such a person?”
The priest showed deepa-aaradhanai to the Lord.
“Bhattare, how did you recognise me? Have you seen me before?”
“Yes, Rani. I have seen you in Pazhayarai and in the banks of Vaigai. How is your brother Thirumalai doing these days?”
“He is roaming from city to city, singing the praises of Goddess Andal. It has been a very long time since I saw him.”
“When I met him, he was also sad that he had not seen you in a long time.”
Nandini and Raakkammal started to leave.
“Ladies, are you planning to go back alone, at this hour? If you can wait for a little while, I can give you company.”
“Sir, it is fine. I have Raakkammal for company. She seems to know this area very well.”
After they walked a little bit, and out of sight of the priest, Raakkammal clasped Nandini’s hand and led her on a path towards the back of the temple. Soon, they reached a path on the banks of a canal, flanked on either side by thick vegetation. They followed the canal bank for some time, lit by the bright stars of the night.