Book 3

Book 3 | Chapter 9 | Three of them in a Boat

The next dawn broke beautifully. Birds rustled out of their sleep and flew out of their trees. Insects buzzed around the flowers and on the water surface. Poonkuzhali woke up with a start. Sendhan Amudhan was rowing the boat. The Prince was still sleeping in front of her. Was he sleeping? Or was he still unconscious from the fever.  

Athaan, why don’t you sing a song in one of the morning ragas?” 

“When you are here, I will not even dream of singing.” 

“I do feel like singing, but am afraid that I will wake the Prince up.” 

The Prince mumbled – “There is no disturbance. Why don’t you both sing?” 

Poonkuzhali blushed.  

They heard horse hooves. They fell silent. A horse galloped along the canal banks. It was Vandhiyathevan.  

“No alarming news. No need to worry. I just came to see if everything was fine, before I left on my journey.” 

Poonkuzhali asked, “What happened to the magician?” 

“He is fine. I saw him and pretended that I saw a ghost and ran away. I am sure he does not even have an inkling of doubt that the Prince is on this boat.” 

“Poonkuzhali,” he continued, “I leave the Prince in your care. Please ensure that he reaches the Choodamani Viharam safely.” 

Amudhan asked him, “Hope you were able to find the horse at the place I told you.” 

“The horse found me. In the middle of the forest, in the darkness, this fellow neighed when I came near. This is the same horse that I left in your care outside Thanjavur. There is one thing that I learnt from the Arabs. It is not right to let these fine horses run barefoot. When I can, I will try and find a blacksmith to fit horseshoes for this horse.” 

He hesitated, “I am not sure if I will ever see you all, or the Prince again. When the Prince awakens, please tell him that I am on my way to Pazhayarai, and that I will send him news after I reach.” 

He spun the horse around and picked up a gallop.  

The boat went up the canal bank at a decent pace. The canal was surrounded on both sides by lush vegetation. In some places, it was shrubs of beautifully fragrant Thazhampoo, and in some places tall Punnai trees. Whenever they saw a village, Sendhan Amudhan would go in and get some milk for the Prince and food for Poonkuzhali and himself.  

When the Prince was awake, Poonkuzhali was too coy to be able to look at his face, and kept looking askance, here and there; but when he was asleep, she could not look at anything else, other than his serene face.  

She discussed a lot about the current affairs of the state with Sendhan Amudhan. They sang songs as well for biding time. They took turns to sleep in between. They had been rowing a night and a full day.  

Early the next morning, they reached Nagapattinam. Just before the town started, the canal split in two, and the smaller channel went directly to the Choodamani Viharam. They directed the boat towards the smaller channel and banked directly behind the main shrine.  

There seemed to be some commotion in the front gate of the shrine. Sendhan Amudhan decided to go and find out the reason for the commotion.