Book 2 | Chapter 23 | Nandini’s scroll

She wants her favourite younger brother Arulmozhi to become the king. That is why she has sent for him. If Arulmozhi comes back, she can control the Chozha kingdom the way she wants. She will rule the kingdom by proxy

Nandini was sitting at a bejewelled table, writing a scroll. It was a cool night, one of her handmaidens was fanning her, and yet, one could spot droplets of sweat glistening on her forehead. The message read –

Dear Prince Karikalan, it is with great hesitation that I am writing to you. I am hearing a lot of inauspicious rumours. I am not sure if they are reaching you, or perhaps you are not reacting to any of them. Your father is very sick. Despite several invitations from him to you, you still have not come to meet him. I would like to talk to you. If you think you cannot come to Thanjavur, we can meet at the palace of Sambuvarayar. The bearer of this scroll, Kandanmaran, who is the son of Sambuvarayar, can be trusted with any news from your side. Please revert with your response. – Nandini”

She looked at her handmaiden and said, “Go and bring our guest Kandanmaran here.” Kandanmaran walked into the room. He stood beside a window staring into the garden.

“Ayya, please sit down. I understand that the eyes that have just appreciated Kundavai’s beauty are hesitant to even see me.”

“A thousand Kundavai-s would not be equal to one Nandini Devi.” She laughed off his appreciation.

“Devi, you can talk about anything in front of me, but please do not speak highly of the Princess. When I think of the way she was supporting Vandhiyathevan, my blood boils even now.”

“Still, your imagination did get the better of you when you described your wrestling bout with Vandhiyathevan.”

Kandanmaran felt a little ashamed.

“I had to say something to that effect. It is true that he stabbed me in the back. I hope you do not doubt me?”

“No. I do not. But I do believe you should try and recall, once more, what happened the other night. You met the Periya Pazhuvettarayar and me midway through the passage. Do you remember that?”

“Yes, I do remember that, Devi.”

“Do you remember what you said when we met?”

“Unfortunately, I do not remember the exact words. I do remember that I stood enchanted looking at you that day.”

“You said, ‘Sir, your Devi is the most beautiful woman on Earth.’.”

“Did I say that? No wonder his face flushed red. And I think that is probably the reason why he does not like me too much even now.”

“That is fine. As long as you like him, it is ok.”

“To be honest, I do not like him either.”

“That is also fine. What matters is that I like him a lot. I am blessed to have such a wonderful husband.”

Kandanmaran sat confused not knowing how to respond.

“Ok. Let us get back to that night. After meeting us, what happened?”

“The soldier with the torch went ahead of me. I followed him, thinking of you. We reached the secret door. He opened it, and stepped aside. I entered the secret passage. And then someone stabbed me in the back. That is all I remember. I still feel he must have been waiting for me outside, and then stabbed me when he got the opportunity.”

“That is where I think you are mistaken. I do not think he was waiting outside. I think he was waiting inside the passageway, searching for a way out. Once he saw you, he followed you all the way out. On his way out he must have stabbed you in the back. But, once he did that, perhaps his conscience got the better of him. He took you to the flower seller’s house, left you there, and escaped.”

“In hindsight, I think your theory is more probable, Devi. In this world, you would either see beautiful women or intelligent women. It is rare to see someone both beautiful and intelligent. You are one of those rare ones that Brahma created.”

“I need you to do me a favour. Would you help me with a task?”

“Anything that you tell me to do, Devi?”

“I would like you to take a scroll to Prince Karikalan in Kanchi. After he has read the scroll, and if he is willing, please take him to Kadambur as a guest.”

“Devi – would that be a wise thing to do? You do know about the plan that is being devised by Periya Pazhuvettarayar and some of that area’s chieftains.”

“Yes, I do know about those plans. But right now, all of us are threatened by one common enemy.”

“And who is that enemy?”

“The poisonous snake that came and visited you this afternoon.”

“The Princess …”

“Yes.”

“The Princess has sent your friend Vandhiyathevan to Lanka on the pretext of getting herbs to cure her father. That is a farce. The reality is that, after her father, she wants neither Aditya Karikalan nor Madhuranthakan to become the king.

She wants her favourite younger brother Arulmozhi to become the king. That is why she has sent for him. If Arulmozhi comes back, she can control the Chozha kingdom the way she wants. She will rule the kingdom by proxy. You know who will rule the kingdom with her – your dear friend Vandhiyathevan.”

“Aha. We need to stop this. Should we not tell my father and Pazhuvettarayar about this?”

“Hmm. There is no use telling them. They will not believe this. They do not believe that she is capable of all this. Kundavai’s dirty tricks should be countered by similar tricks. Would you do me the favour or not?”

She gave him the scroll. Caught in the smoke of lust, Kandanmaran held her hand, instead of taking the scroll, “I would do anything for you, Devi.”

Just at that time, there was commotion from the direction of the latha mandapam entrance. The Pazhuvettarayar entered the premises, and he seemed very angry. A parrot kept in a cage near the entrance fluttered its wings in surprise. The hand-maiden at the door let out a gasp on seeing the angry approach of the master of the palace.

Book 1| Chapter 52 | Make me Empress

Mahabalipuram by night (img src: wikimedia commons)

Parthibendran had been devoid of emotion until now. But now, he wiped off a tear, proving that he was a human too. He could not believe it himself. He was choking.

“My prince, I can now see, how much, love can affect the bravest of the brave. None of us knew this incident had occurred on your coronation day. I remember that you seemed sad that day. I remember cracking jokes at your expense. We tried cheering you up.”

“Yes. I remember. I remember your jokes. I remember you telling me how much I would succeed in expanding the Chozha empire. I remember how much it hurt me that day.”

“And then one day, Nandini sent me a message that she wanted to meet me in her palace. I was unsure whether I should meet her or not. I was confused, but then eventually decided that I would go. I would go and ask her the questions within my heart. I wanted to ask her about her birth. I also wanted to ask her if the Chakravarthy fainting had anything to do with seeing her.”

“While I had all these questions to ask her, the questions were just an excuse for me to go see her.”

“The Pazhuvettarayar was not in town. There was no one who could question the Crown Prince. No one in the palace knew about our earlier relationship. It would just be a visit to get the blessings of the Pazhuvoor queen. We met in the latha mandapam in her palace.”

“Parthibendra, you might have heard from captains of our navy about whirl currents in the middle of the oceans. If ships get caught in them, ships break down into bits in no time. I felt like those ships, when I saw Nandini. I was broken down into bits.”

“She expressed happiness on my being crowned as heir apparent. I rejected these words. I heaped insults on her for having destroyed our love and loving my enemy. I questioned her marrying the old Pazhuvettarayar. While my mind was cowering in shame, my mouth was blabbering uncontrollably. It was my heart speaking.”

“She calmly replied, `Prince, you first killed my love. You killed the person whom I loved. It looks like you are still not satisfied.’ She then took out her small dagger from her hip. She gave it to me and said, `Kill me, if that is the only thing that will satisfy you’. I replied with the most shameful words. I said that it was not she who should be killed. It was she, who was killing me, by doing all this.”

“I said, `It is still not too late. I will leave my kingdom for you. You run away from this old man.’”

“She laughed like a maniac hearing my words. She then said the most incisive words that I had ever heard. `Becoming the Pazhuvoor Rani is not my end goal. I aim to become the Queen of the Chozha Empire. I will slay the two Pazhuvettarayars myself. You put the Emperor in prison and ascend the throne as Emperor. I will then accept to live with you, as the Empress of the Chozha Kingdom.’

“The words killed me, my friend. My anger then took over me. I cursed her and started to leave. On my way out, she still insisted one more time, that if I ever change my mind, I should come back and take her.”

“I have not seen her since.”

“I cannot imagine that a rakshashi like her exists in this world. It is good that you have not seen her after that incident.”

“While I have not gone to see her, she does not seem to leave me alone. She haunts me in my thoughts during the daytime. She kills me in my dreams during the night. There are times when she comes with a lusty smile. There are times, when she comes sobbing with sorrow. There are times, when she comes with a dagger to kill me. There are times when she is laughing hysterically.”

“Now you also know why I have been hesitating to go to Thanjavur. And why I want my father to come here instead.”

Parthibendran bristled at that thought. “Are you not going to Thanjavur because of the fear of a woman? What can she do to you?”

Karikalan sighed. “You still have not understood me, my Pallava friend. I am not afraid that she would kill me. I am afraid that she would make me do what she wishes. Either she dies. Or I die. Or both of us die. Until then, the heaviness in my heart will remain.”

“Why should you die, my king? Give me permission. I will go to Lanka later. I will go tomorrow to Thanjavur and kill her.”

“If you do something like that, you will become my arch-enemy. If Nandini has to die, it would have to be me who kills her, for I will kill myself soon after. If anyone else attempts to lay a finger on her, I will finish him off.”

“My friend, forget everything that I said about Nandini. Forget everything. Go to Lanka tomorrow. Bring back Arulmozhi. Let Malayamaan and him discuss and decide what to do. Meanwhile, you and I will take a large naval force down to the island countries of Java, Sumatra, and surrounding areas. We will capture these new lands and raise the flag with the tiger all over.”

At that moment, Malayamaan walked in. “Are you both still up? Parthibendra, I hope you did not forget that you have to sail to Lanka tomorrow.”

“We were wrapping up a discussion about my trip.”

Book 1 | Chapter 51 | Deeply Wounded

Gangai Konda Chozhapuram (img src: https://sunrise.maplogs.com)

It looked like the cultural program had ended. There were loud cheers praising the Emperor and the Crown Prince.

“The cultural program has finished. Malayamaan will return soon.”

“The program might have finished, but your story has not finished.”

“Haha. I am still wondering about Malayamaan. Look at his energy at this old age.”

“My lord, men from those days, have a reason to be fit — both physically and mentally. Kings of those days did not get caught in the traps of love. They never fell in love with daughters of a common priest. Even if they did, they would not wallow in the self-pity of love. They would have brought the lady immediately and added her to their andhapuram.”

“Parthibendra, Nandini is not the daughter of a temple priest. There is some secret of her birth that I do not know, yet”

“Who cares if she is the daughter of a priest? So what if she is a princess? Or even an orphan? Look at what the Periya Pazhuvettarayar did. He saw her in the middle of a jungle trail. He lusted. He brought her back to his andhapuram. End of story.”

“Which is what is still a mystery to me. The lady whom I loved. The lady who said she was in love with Veerapandiyan. How could she accept to be the wife of this old man?”

“I don’t find it a mystery at all. Actually, what you did seems more of a mystery to me. The lady who gave refuge to the enemy that you had sworn to kill — you left her unscathed and came back. That is something which I cannot digest.”

“In fact, now I remember. You brought out the decapitated body of Veerapandiyan and laid it in front of us. We were flooded with euphoria. I heard someone wailing from inside the hut. I remember asking you who was inside the hut. You had said that it was some temple priest’s daughter, and that she had been shocked with the happenings. You asked us not to go into the hut. We were in the throes of victory. So we did not care. We took the head of Veerapandiyan and rode back to the camp.”

“I also remember that you did not partake of much of the celebrations that night. You were not yourself. I even asked you if you had any hidden wounds.”

“I did not have any physical wound, Parthibendra. It was my heart that was wounded. When she stood pleading for his life, my heart was torn. How could I have given what she was asking for? She was important to me, but what she was asking for, that could not be done. I cursed myself for it.”

“My prince, you did the right thing that day. If not, for the sake of a few fake tears, you would have forgiven the Pandiya king, and things would have been much different now.”

“Friend, you are an unlucky one who hates women. You hate even the word love. You would not understand.”

“Yes. I am like that. I would not fall for any woman. Look at your friend Vandiyathevan. He falls in love with anything with a face smeared with turmeric. And perhaps, that is why you like him more than you like me.”

“Oho. I was wondering how you had not brought in Vandiyathevan for so long.”

“Anyways, let him be. What happened next? Did you not meet her ever again? Have you asked her recently why she married the Pazhuvettarayar?”

“After the celebrations, you had all gone to sleep. I could not get a wink of sleep. Every time I closed my eyes, the events of the evening kept flashing by me again and again. I had to meet her. I had to console her. I had to maybe apologize to her. I took my horse and went back to the priest settlement.”

“The huts had all been burnt to ashes. I saw an old couple wailing uncontrollably nearby. They saw me and asked where their daughter was. They had been to the other side of the river to attend to their elder daughter, who was about to give birth. Nandini had refused to come. While coming back, they had seen a few men roughing up a girl, whose hands and feet were tied. They were trying to push her onto a burning pier, where a human corpse was burning. The couple had silently slipped unnoticed and came back to their settlement, only to see that it was burnt to cinders.”

“I had known earlier that they were not Nandini’s real parents. Now it was confirmed. If they were her real parents, would they have let their daughter alone at a time like this?”

“I was choking with sorrow, anger, frustration and many more emotions that I could not describe then, nor can I describe now. I cursed them — `Your daughter went searching for the corpse that was burning. You also go and burn.’.”

“I came back before dawn and fell asleep. None of you knew that I had even slipped out.”

“Yes, my prince. None of us knew. And I, as a friend, did not know that, you had hidden so much in your heart, for so long.”

“Let us not talk about the past any more. Did you meet or talk to her after that? Did you talk to her before her wedding with Pazhuvettarayar?”

“Hah. If I had seen her before her wedding with Pazhuvettarayar, she would not be his wife now.”

“If you remember, the two of us were not in town, when their wedding happened. A few months later, there was a function when I was crowned as the heir-apparent of the Chozha kingdom. It was the idea of my father and grandmother. They did not wish there to be any discussion on who would be the next Emperor. Perhaps they knew that someday, someone might attempt changing the mind of Madhuranthakan.”

“Every one of our vassal kings and the people of our land had unanimously agreed on this. In this joyous moment, I had completely forgotten Nandini. Right after the coronation, the Emperor, my father, took me to the andhapuram, to get the blessings of the royal ladies. My mother, grandmother, my sister, all of her handmaidens, and several others were in full attendance. But, out of all of them, only one face was visible to me. Yes. It was Nandini. Yes, the same love of my life, whom I had thought to have been burnt to ashes. How did she come to the andhapuram? She was bedecked in the finest of clothes and jewelry. She had a charming smile on her face too. I thought, due to some magical happening, the love of my life had also returned on the same day of my coronation. I thought, perhaps, she would become the queen-apparent.”

“My grandmother then stepped forward and blessed me. At that very moment, my father let out a cry, and fell down unconscious. We focused on my father then. All the ladies except my immediate family went inside. We sprinkled water on my father’s face and he regained consciousness. I took my sister aside and asked her how Nandini had gotten there. Kundavai had revealed the news of the Pazhuvettarayars wedding. Parthibendra, it felt like someone pierced me with a spear. I have been wounded in many a war. I have recovered from all of them. But the inner wound that was caused when my sister told me that Nandini was the Pazhuvoor queen, has still not healed.”

Karikalan wept silently. Parthibendran could see that the wound had not healed.

Book 1 | Chapter 50 | Veerapandiyan’s Head

Pudhu mandapam, Madurai. img src: thegoodlifewithiq.com

“I was twelve years old, when I first met her. It was a summer afternoon, when my brother, sister, and I were playing in the pond behind our palace, in Pazhayarai. We had finished playing and were heading up the stairs to the garden, when we heard our grandmother, Sembiyan Maadevi’s voice. She was sitting in the garden with three others. One of them was a young girl, who was in our age group. We assumed that the other two adults were her parents. It was her large inquisitive eyes that captured me that day. I can still picture them. “

The Prince stared into the darkness and did not speak for a while.

“My grandmother told us that these people were from Pandiyadesam and would be staying at Eesana Shiva Bhattar’s house. She introduced the young girl as Nandini and encouraged my sister to include her, whenever we played. She said that Nandini could be a good, loyal friend to my sister.”

Karikalan sighed. “But I could sense that my sister did not like Nandini.”

“When we walked back to our palace, my sister commented on how ugly and awkward Nandini looked, and that she could never face Nandini with a straight face.”

A chuckle escaped Karikalan’s lips. “That is when I learnt an important life lesson. Women are born with jealousy. However beautiful a woman may be, if she sees someone more beautiful than her, she cannot tolerate it.”

“I used to tease my sister quite a bit. I used to tell her that Nandini did look beautiful. We debated a lot regarding this.”

“A few years later, my father and I embarked on the war against Pandiyanaadu. The Eezham king at that time had also sent a force to help the Pandiya army. We tore them apart. The Pandiya king Veerapandiyan went missing. We did not know whether he went into hiding, or if he died. The Eezham forces retreated. We chased them all the way to Sethu. What remained of them boarded their boats and fled. My father wanted to teach the Eezham king a lesson, to not interfere in the mainland wars. He planned to send a strong force under the leadership of Kodumbalur Siriya Velaan. We waited at Sethu until this expedition set off and left only when we got information that the force had landed safely.”

“It was two years before we reached Pazhayarai again. Both my sister and Nandini had grown up and changed considerably. Both were even more beautiful than before. They also seemed to have forgotten their initial differences and settled into a close friendship. I noticed that Nandini was decked in fine clothing and jewelry too. It was probably my sisters doing. The adolescent Nandini felt very shy talking to me.”

“I tried very hard to break her shyness towards me. Talking to her gave me immense pleasure. I cannot put in words the feelings that I had. But I soon realized that, people around me did not like this. Ever since we returned, my sister Kundavai started showing signs of hatred towards Nandini. Even my grandmother pulled me aside one day and said `Nandini is from a priest family. You are an Emperors son. It is not advisable to spend too much time with her.’ I was shocked. I lost some respect for my grandmother. I went against her wishes and continued talking to Nandini.”

“One day, I came to know that, Nandini and her family had gone back to their town in Pandiyanaadu. I was devastated. I showed scorn towards others. I showed my anger on my sister. Thankfully, I had to travel north with the Chozha army to drive out the Rashtrakoota forces that had occupied Thirumunaipaadi and Thondai Mandalam. That was when we met and became dear friends. With the help of Malayamaan, the two of us drove the Rashtrakoota forces to the other side of the river Paalaar, and we captured Kanchi.”

“Then, we received bad news from Lanka. Our forces were destroyed there and our Kodumbalur warrior had died in battle. On hearing this news, the Pandiya king who had been hiding so long, came out of hiding and regrouped an army. He used this army to recapture Madurai.”

“Parthibendra, you must remember how we felt on that day. We felt so much anger that we started immediately to Pazhayarai. My father had started becoming immobile already. His legs were not strong enough. I took an oath to my father, that I would not return back, without capturing Madurai, and that I would bring back the Pandiya king’s head to Chozhanaadu. You remember all this, don’t you?”

Karikalan was shaking by now.

“My father wanted us to take the army which was led by Kodumbalur Boodhi Vikrama Kesari. We accepted and started. We met Periya Pazhuvettarayar on the way and he had expressed his displeasure at not having been appointed the Army general. The Kodumbalur general did not want any controversy in this matter, and handed over the reins of the army to me.”

“Hah. You remember that war, don’t you? We routed their army. We recaptured Madurai. We were not satisfied with that. We did not want this to happen ever again. We instructed our army to chase down every living Pandiya warrior and kill them. You and I took a small force and followed the Pandiya king. The Pandiya king’s bodyguard formed a human shield around their king, determined to give their lives for their king. We killed each one of them. When we had killed each one of them, we realized that it was a ploy. In the middle stood an elephant with a flag with the fish insignia, but no sign of the king. It was not very surprising. The Pandiya king was adept at fleeing from the battlefield.”

“We did not back down. We searched in all directions. I was also searching along the banks of the Vaigai river. I spotted a single horse’s hoof marks. There were blood stains on that trail as well. I followed this trail. It led to a small settlement. There was a Perumal temple in the middle and a couple of huts of the priests. Flowering plants abounded in the area.”

“If you remember, I had given strict orders to you and the army that no one should ever step into that settlement. All of you probably thought the order was because of the temple in the settlement. What I had not told any of you was that, I had spotted my childhood love in there. I had seen Nandini in the settlement. She was looking different than before. She wore her long hair in a side bun like Aandal. She had adorned her hair with flowers. She also wore a flower garland on her neck. When I had asked her about it, she had said that, when she left Pazhayarai and came here, she had made a pledge not to wed any man, and like Aandaal, if she ever wed anyone, she would marry only Lord Krishna.”

“Heh. I remember sniggering, since I did not believe in the nonsense she was talking. Yet, I did not give my opinion to her. I had asked her if she needed any help. She was the one who had requested that no one come into this settlement. She had said that only her two aged parents lived here, other than her. She had an elder brother, who had gone on a pilgrimage. And hence my order to you and the army, never to enter that settlement.”

“I went and saw her, a couple of times. Love was rekindled.”

“These memories flashed in my mind at that time also, when I saw the single horse tracks leading to the same settlement. I saw the horse tied to a tree, and the blood stains led to one of the huts. I peeped in through a window, and what did I see? It felt like a hot iron rod had been driven into me. Veerapandiyan was on a cot. Nandini was nearby feeding him a glass of water. There were tears in her eyes.”

“I was livid with anger. I kicked open the door of the hut. She came screaming in front of me and fell at my feet. She asked me to pardon the injured man. I was taken aback. I asked her how she was related to the man on the bed.”

There were tears in Karikalan’s eyes now.

“You know what she said? She said that the man on the bed was her lover. She claimed him as the man who had agreed to marry her. I lost even the little sympathy that I had for the wounded man on the bed. I would even have pardoned him if he had conquered my kingdom. He had conquered the woman who lived in my heart. I kicked Nandini to the side, and in one swoop of my sharp sword, I felled Veerapandiyan’s head.”

“Sometimes, nowadays, I feel shameful that I committed such a deed, but that was a time, when I was filled with the bravado of war, and with anger. When I left that hut, I turned back and looked at Nandini. Our eyes met. Her eyes were glowing with anger. Embers of fire.”

“By that time, you had come searching for me. You saw the decapitated head of Veerapandiyan and raised victory cheers. But my heart was heavy, burdened with sorrow.”

Book 1 | Chapter 49 | Heavy Heart

Another view of the Shore temple at Mahabalipuram. img src: cgtn.com

The three warriors decided to stay in a royal guest house in Maamallapuram. After dinner, Malayamaan went to a cultural program that he heard was happening in the town. Parthibendran and Karikalan went to the terrace. Karikalan was looking at the beautiful night view of the city. There was the flicker of lamps in many households. The evening prayers of the temples were just getting over and the temples were getting locked for the night. It was predominantly silent. He could hear the waves crashing on the shore. He could also hear story-telling at a distance — perhaps the same cultural program that Malayamaan had also gone to.

“Parthibendra, look at Malayamaan. He was so tired just a while ago. Now, he has gone to the cultural program. The people of his era are indeed different. Strong. Defiant.”

“My friend, it surprises me that you have also started talking about people of a different era. What have they achieved that we have not achieved? Look at yourself. You went into battle at such a young age. You have fought and won battles that one can only dream of.”

“Parthibendra”, the Prince caught hold of his friend’s shoulders, “I admire you. You are one of those who speak from your heart. Not like some, who feel something, and talk something else. Only because of that, I tolerate what you just said. You know I hate anyone praising me in my own presence.”

“If I said something which is not true, then you should punish me. What I claim is true. Comparing you to your ancestors is well within the realm of reality.”

“Stop, Parthibendra. I will not take any more of this. My ancestors were legends. I am far from them.”

Karikalan then went to list a few of the great accomplishments of his ancestors. He spoke about the war with the Kalingas. He spoke about the great war with the Pandiyas. He spoke about the Pallavas who built this glorious town of Maamallapuram. He spoke about the art of sculpture.

“You still think, you can compare me with my ancestors?”

“But then, my lord, you should also remember, I do not just praise you all the time. I do from time to time point out your faults too. Like now, I would like to remind you that you are also getting ahead of yourself in terms of promoting the arts, when you should probably be expanding your empire.”

“You should remember that kingdoms tend to ebb and flow over time. There are times, when the kingdoms flourish and then there are times when there is a lull. It is all part of a grand scheme of things.”

Parthibendran was surprised to hear his friend and king speak this way.

“My king, you are not yourself today. I have never heard you speak so dejectedly. Something in your heart is making you talk this way. Would you not share it with me today?”

“Who do you think lives in my heart?”

“It is precisely what I would like to know.”

“The great beings who brought me into this world — my father and mother — are not in my heart. The two people whom I love to death — my brother and sister — would not be there either. My closest friends — you and Vandiyathevan — would not be there. The one lady whom I hate more than anything else in this world, resides there in all her glory. The Pazhuvoor queen — Nandhini — the one person who is worse than the deadliest poison. I have not told this to anyone else till now. You are the first person I have opened up to.”

“I guessed so. Every time, someone spoke about her, I could sense the change in your demeanor. But what caused her to get into your heart? Why the hate? However much you might hate the Pazhuvettarayar, she is now his wife. Is it right to keep her thoughts in your heart?”

“Her venom of love had crept into my heart before she wed the Pazhuvettarayar. I knew her from before.”

“How did you know her from before?”

“It is a long story. It is late. Would you like to hear the story today?”

“Yes, Sire. I would. You have asked me to leave for Lanka tomorrow. I would like to hear your story, console you if possible, and then leave. If I do not hear the story, I would be continuously thinking about you and the mental torture you are going through, and perhaps would not be able to discharge my duty properly.”

“Hah. You are going to console me? I do not think anyone can console me, at least not in this birth.”

He heaved a long sigh, and started narrating his story.

Book 1 | Chapter 47 | Beach meeting

Mahabalipuram. src: Wikimedia Commons

On the shore, there was a bund of loosely piled granite rocks to keep back the sea. The famed sculptors of Maamallapuram had not left out any of these rocks behind. Each rock had sculptures on them. Aditya Karikalan and Malayamaan walked to two flat rocks, which almost looked like thrones. Parthibendran stood a little afar. Waves crashed on the rocks and sprayed sea water on them.

They were looking at the large number of small boats loading cargo onto the larger sailing ships in the horizon.

Parthibendran was the first to speak. “All the grains and supplies that we had been collecting in preparation for our northern expansion are being shipped to Lanka for our troops.”

Karikalan shot back, “Our troops in Lanka have been slowly winning war after war. After a thousand years, we have won back Anuradhapuram. Do you want to let these victorious warriors die of hunger?”

“I am not saying they should starve. Ideally, the goods should have gone from Nagapattinam in Chozhanaadu, or from Sethukarai in Pandiyanaadu. Why should it go from our already draught ridden Thondainaadu? This would impact our northern attack. That is my concern.”

“Hmm. Yes. That is a valid concern, and I have been thinking about it too. I still cannot understand the intentions of the Pazhuvettarayars. How much longer should we be patient? Thatha, you still have not spoken.”

The old warrior spoke at last, “The waves of the sea are crashing with deafening sounds behind us. Your friend, Parthibendran is competing with the waves and screaming even louder. Between these two, how can I speak?”

Karikalan motioned to Parthibendran to be quiet for some time, and turned to his grandfather.

“Karikala, I will tell you the intentions of the Pazhuvettarayars. They want to weaken you and your brother individually. They want Arulmozhi to lose the war in Lanka and feel humiliated. They want you to be angry at your brother. They probably want a rift between the two of you. This unrest within the royal family is what they are trying to achieve.”

“Hah. That can never happen, Thatha. No one can separate the two of us. I am prepared to lay down my life for my brother. Sometimes, I feel like I want to get on a ship and head to Lanka. I do not know the hardships Arulmozhi is facing. And here I am, eating, sleeping, and generally leading a luxurious life. At this rate, my knife and spear will begin to rust. Thatha, tell me, should I just get on to one of those cargo ships and go to Lanka?”

“Aha. Excellent idea, my King. Let us go. I have been saying this for such a long time”, said an excited Parthibendran. “No use in asking grandfather. He will only object. Let us take half our forces and go. We will finish the war in Lanka in half the time. Victoriously we will sail back to Nagapattinam. Then we will march to Thanjavur and confront the Pazhuvettarayars directly.”

“Karikala, see. I told you, I will not talk until your friend keeps his mouth shut.”

Parthibendran made an elaborate gesture of closing his mouth and stepping back.

“Karikala, I know you are one of the bravest warriors in this land. I still remember your attack in the big war at Sevur. You were barely sixteen at that time. I can still picture your swordsmanship that day. Your friend, here, is also a great warrior, just like you. However, both of you are impatient. Both of you have a short temper. You lack the calmness of mind to think a strategy through.”

Thatha, you have given this advice so many times before.”

“Hah. Yes. Countless times. But I see no improvements. Perhaps it is not considered important. Tell me if you wish me to leave back to my town, without giving you any ‘useless advice’.”

“No. Please do not go. We would like your thoughts on the next step.”

“I think you should get Arulmozhi here. And the two of you should be together. You should never leave each other’s company.”

“But then, what about the war in Lanka?”

“We have reached a certain milestone in Lanka. Anuradhapuram has been captured. The monsoon has now set in. There will be incessant rains for the next four months. No war can be fought then. All we need to do is to protect what we have captured. That can be done by our generals there.”

“It is important that Arulmozhi stays here now. There is no reason why we should hide the bitter truth. The Chozha dynasty is under threat now. You should all be careful. Gather your forces and be ready for anything.”

Karikalan bristled, “Are you trying to frighten me Thatha? I am not afraid of anything, as long as my sword and spear are with me.”

“Karikala, the princes in the Chozha dynasty have one thing in common. They have an overabundance of courage. We have nothing to worry about that. One should not be afraid of the danger that is visible in front of them. But one should always be afraid of the danger that is not visible and can appear without warning. It is wise to be prepared.”

Karikalan’s brows constricted. “Are you anticipating any invisible dangers?”

“Hmm. Yes. A few days ago, there was a midnight meeting at the Kadambur palace. It was attended by Periya Pazhuvettarayar and several of the vassal kings.”

Karikalan sniggered, “So what? They probably met to party. They would have all eaten good food, drank good liquor, and then gone to sleep. These old vassal kings you mention, what danger can they be up to?”

“Hmm. You call them old fools. Do not forget that one of those old fools got married very recently to a very young woman. There is nothing more dangerous than an old man marrying a young woman.”

Karikalan suddenly became very upset. His eyes became bloodshot. His fists were clenched. His skin bristled.

The old king did not notice this, but Parthibendran did.

Thatha, let us move on from that wedding topic. What happened in the midnight meeting?” said Parthibendran.

“Hmm, amidst those old fools, there were some young warriors too. One of them was Kadambur Sambuvarayar’s son, Kandanmaran. And there was one more.”

“Who was that?”

“Your grandfather Kandaraadhitar’s son, your uncle, Madhuranthakan.”

Parthibendran and Karikalan burst out laughing instantaneously together.

“Why are you laughing?”

“You mentioned Madhuranthakan as a young warrior. That is what we provoked the laughter. We consider him to be an old fool — an old fool dedicated to doing service only to God.”

“Sometimes youth returns to old fools. Have you not heard he has recently gotten married a couple of times? These were weddings that were made out of political alliances.”

“I still do not understand. Thatha, can you stop talking in riddles, and tell us plainly, what is the intention of the Pazhuvettarayars? Why are they conducting these midnight meetings? And why was Madhuranthakan present there?”

Malayamaan took a deep breath and spoke, “It is their intention to get rid of you and your brother, and put Madhuranthakan on the throne. It is to get the Emperors approval for this plan, that they have kept him locked up in the palace at Thanjavur.”