Book 2 | Chapter 24 | It is all Kundavai’s plan

“Listen, there is even more to what he has to say. He claims that you met this young spy outside the Thanjavur gates when you were travelling here. He also says that you must have given him the ring then. He claims that the spy also came into this very palace and met you surreptitiously here. Or, he says, the ring must have gotten to him through that other magician who keeps frequenting this palace.”

Kandanmaran noticed the Pazhuvettarayar’s angry approach and hoped that he had not heard the conversation between Nandini and himself. He hoped that the Pazhuvettarayar had not formed any wrong impression of him. But then, he now witnessed a miracle.

Nandini looked at him and fluttered her eyes, “Naada, I was worried that you had been away for so long. It is good that you are back in town.”

The old man looked at his lady love, and when he heard those golden words, melted. He smiled awkwardly.

“The work for which I had gone took a little while longer. What is this young man doing here? Has he brought any romantic poetry for you?”

Kandanmaran’s face flushed crimson. Nandini was quick to retort, and she laughed.

“This young man does not know how to be romantic, nor does he know how to write poetry. All he knows is to get wounded in a fight.”

“Yes, I heard. I have also gotten wounded in battle. Never have I been in bed recuperating though. It has been more than a week, and this young man has still not recovered. Or perhaps, it is because he got wounded in the back, that it has taken so long.”

“Sire, I treat you on par with my father. And that is the only reason I am tolerating these words of yours.”

“Else, what would you do?” the Pazhuvettarayar’s voice grew a tad bit louder, and his hand gripped the sword on his scabbard.

Nandini interrupted at this moment. “Naada, you know that it was not just his back that was wounded. His heart was broken too. The man that he thought was his best friend turned against him. The back wound has healed, but the heart has not. You know what transpired that night, when all this happened.”

She looked into the Pazhuvettarayar’s eyes. There must have been some message that was passed on, because the old man regained his composure immediately.

“Yes, I remember that night. This boy is but an innocent person. I should not take his words too seriously. His father is also a very close friend of mine. Anyway, let it be. I came here to share some important news. Perhaps, Kandanmaran should know about this too.”

“I hear they have captured a spy at Mathottam, in Lanka. He was also apparently holding a scroll meant for the Prince. By the descriptions of the spy that I am hearing, it does seem like Kandanmaran’s handsome friend, Vandhiyathevan. This fellow is a slippery one. Look how he escaped from here to Lanka.”

Naada, I am not very surprised that he slipped away to Lanka. I have told you numerous times of the incompetence of your brother and his forces.”

“Hmm. Yes, you have told me many times before and I had not taken it seriously. I think you are right.”

“Listen, there is more to this. Among the spy’s belongings, they found a ring with the palm-tree insignia.”

“Ah, how could he have one of our insignia rings? What does your brother have to say about that?”

The Pazhuvettarayar laughed a loud villainous laugh. “Kaalanthakan seems to think you must have given the ring to the spy.”

Nandini feigned laughter along with Pazhuvettarayar.

“Listen, there is even more to what he has to say. He claims that you met this young spy outside the Thanjavur gates when you were travelling here. He also says that you must have given him the ring then. He claims that the spy also came into this very palace and met you surreptitiously here. Or, he says, the ring must have gotten to him through that other magician who keeps frequenting this palace.”

Pazhuvettarayar continued laughing his loud raucous laugh.

Naada, I was wrong about your brother. He does make up for his lack of intelligence with his wonderful sense of imagination. I am however sad that you were just listening to all these accusations against me without reacting.”

Suddenly, her face turned angry. The change in emotions was drastic. The old man who had fought so many battles before, was confused.

“Of course, I was not silent. I shot back at my brother. I gave him a piece of my mind.”

Kandanmaran was caught in the middle of all this. He wished not to be there. He cleared his throat.

Ayya, we forgot about this young man here, while discussing the intelligence of your brother. Kandanmaran wishes to return to Kadambur. I hope this is fine with you?”

“Yes. I think it is time. His father would already be worried by now.”

“I also wish to send a scroll through him to Kanchi.”

The Pazhuvettarayar was taken aback by surprise.

“Why are you writing to the Prince at Kanchi?”

“If the Princess writes a scroll and sends it to her younger brother in Lanka, why should I not write a scroll for the elder brother?”

“How do you know that the scroll found on the spy was written by the Princess?”

“I know all. You keep asking me why I meet the magician. He tells me many things – one of which is this. The incompetence of your younger brother’s guards is demonstrated again. They told you about the insignia. Did they tell you about the author of the scroll?”

“This news did not come from my brother’s forces. I heard this from Anbil Aniruddha Brahmaraayar, who has just returned from Lanka.”

“Did he tell you about the author of the scroll? I have been telling you for a while now, about vile happenings around you. There are people plotting against you. The Princess is part of all this. I am not saying this based only on the magician’s words. I had the Pazhayarai Vaidhiyar’s son brought here and interrogated. He confirmed this as well.”

The Pazhuvettarayar was confused. He was also not in favour of discussing all this in front of Kandanmaran. Nandini realised this.

Naada, why should we delay this young man’s departure on his journey? I think, with your approval, he should leave now.”

Ayya, please ensure absolute secrecy. Deliver the scroll in person to the Prince. If he wishes to give a reply scroll, ensure it reaches me in absolute secrecy. Do not forget to invite him to the Kadambur palace.”

“I am wondering what I should tell my father, Devi. Can I mention that it is the Pazhuvoor King’s request?”

“Yes. You can. The Pazhuvoor King’s request is always in alignment with his queen’s thoughts. Is that not right, sire?”

The Pazhuvettarayar nodded uncomfortably.

After Kandanmaran left the room, she looked at him with her dove-like eyes, and spoke in her sweetest seductive voice. “Naada, it looks like the conversation with your brother has reduced your trust in me?” He was clearly blown over. “Uh oh. Never. I might even lose trust over my spear and sword, but my trust in you would never diminish.”

“If that is true, why did you throw so many accusative words at me, and that too, in front of that young man?”

Tears brimmed over her beautiful eyes.

“Oh, please do not cry. It tortures my soul to see you cry. But still, there are some activities of yours that I wish to clarify with you. Do I not have the right to do that?”

“Of course, you can. You definitely have the right to ask me. But, not in front of others. Ask me now. There is no one around.”

“Hmm, okay. Why did you send a scroll to Aditya Karikalan? Why did you invite him to Kadambur? Isn’t he the primary enemy of our plan?”

“No. He is not our primary enemy. Our main enemy is the serpent of Pazhayarai, Kundavai. If you remember, I have been telling you that she has her own plan. I think I have found out what that plan is.”

The Pazhuvettarayar was hooked, and was listening intently.

“I think she wants her favourite younger brother, Arulmozhi to be Emperor. She is willing to side-line anybody else, to achieve her purpose. That is the reason why she has sent the spy to Lanka. That is also the reason why she has now come to Thanjavur. Now, do you see why I sent a scroll to Kanchi?”

The Pazhuvettarayar was even more confused, but he did not show it.

“Yes, I see what you are doing.”

“You and your ancestors have been of so much service to this great Chozha kingdom. I want you to enjoy the throne at least for one day. I want to see that glorious sight. If this idea of mine is wrong, please kill me with your sword right now.”

“Nandini, please do not speak such gruesome words.”

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 48 | Wise Counsel

img src: holidify.com

After hearing what his grandfather had to say, Aditya Karikalan stood rooted to the spot. He could not think straight. Parthibendran also stood staring into nowhere. The waves seemed to suddenly become silent.

Karikalan looked into his grandfather’s eyes and said, “Thatha, I have been hearing these rumors for a while. I did not think such things could really happen. Are you sure?”

“Why not? As per formal succession rules, Madhuranthakan has more rights to become Emperor than you.”

Parthibendran sneered back, “Never. That fool of a person. He cannot even string together four words to make a proper speech. He has never touched a sword, let alone use it. He should have been a girl, or at least that was how he was brought up.” He spat, as the uttered the last few words in rage.

Thatha, I do not care who rules over the kingdom. I can go conquer ten other kingdoms with the help of my sword. It would have been fine, if it had been announced earlier itself that Madhuranthakan was heir apparent. But, when it has been announced that I would succeed the Emperor, far and wide in the kingdom, it is not fair. Would you accept this?”

“I would never accept it. If you ever decide to give up your throne to Madhuranthakan, I would kill you, my grandson, with this very sword. And then, I will go and kill your mother, for having begotten such a son. And then I will kill myself.”

The old king’s eyes were burning as hot embers. He was trembling. “As long as I am alive, I would never accept such a thing. Never.”

Parthibendran was overjoyed. “That is more like it, Thatha. Aaha.” He hugged Malayamaan. Tears rolled down his cheeks.

“If that is how you feel, I will take our forces to Thanjavur. I will kill these vassals who are planning this coup, and bring back my father. There is no other in this world, who can survive an attack by Parthibendran and me.”

“In force, no one can beat you, Karikala. But these people are very good at creating cunning schemes. They will start rumors that a Chozha son is coming to fight a war with his own father. If the Emperor hears this, he will die of sadness. Will you be able to bear the blame of someone who killed his own father?”

“Shiva Shiva. I cannot even hear of such a situation. But then, what is the solution, Thatha?”

“I already told you. We are in a dangerous time. You should first send someone trustworthy to Lanka, and bring back Arulmozhi. It would be very difficult. Knowing Arulmozhi, he will never leave his troops behind and come back.”

Parthibendran stepped in front. “If you agree, I will go myself.”

“That is up to Karikalan to decide. But, whoever goes, will have to be careful. He should not indulge in any other act of bravado, like our friend Vandiyathevan.”

Parthibendran snapped back, “Haha, I always knew…”

The Prince cut him short and begged the old King to continue.

“I originally had some doubt about Vandiyathevan’s loyalty. I came to know that he was also in Kadambur the night of the meeting. But then, I got it confirmed that he was not part of the meeting.”

Thatha, how did you find all this out?”

“I was suspicious when I had not gotten an invitation for the event at Kadambur. So I laid a trap for one of the vassal kings — Kundrathur Kizhaar — when he was returning back to his kingdom, after the meeting. I took to him to my fort, tortured him, and got all this information.”

“Apparently Vandiyathevan and Kandanmaran are close friends from the days when they served in our army.”

“Yes, Thatha. I recall vividly that they were pretty close friends.”

“I was still not sure if Vandiyathevan was in the meeting or not, since he was still in the premises of the fort that whole night. But, I also got to know that he had gotten into a fight with Kandanmaran. This confirmed to me that Vandiyathevan could not have been part of the plot. If he was, they would not be fighting among themselves.”

“Karikala, did you hear the news that Vandiyathevan stabbed Kandanmaran in his back?”

“Impossible. You can put any blame on Vandiyathevan, but he would never stab someone in the back. And that too, never a friend.”

“What if he had found out that the close friend was part of a wicked plot?”

“Even then, he would have fought face to face, and not stabbed someone in the back. Never.”

“I admire the faith you have in your friendship, Karikala.”

“Vandiyathevan would never turn against us. I would never doubt his loyalty.”

Parthibendran also added, “I would also vouch for his loyalty. The only fault that I keep pointing out in Vandiyathevan is his weakness for a pretty face.”

Karikalan roared in laughter. “That is why I have sent him to Kundavai’s palace, after delivering my message to the Emperor. If he sees my sister, he would be enchanted and never leave that place.”

“Any news of Vandiyathevan, after he escaped from Thanjavur?”

“No. I have been waiting anxiously, but no news yet.”

“Once Arulmozhi gets here, we should get Kundavai also here. Then everything will fall in place. We should leave all the strategizing to the Princess.”

“And why is that, Thatha?”

“She is a brilliant strategist, right from her young age. She has a very sharp intellect. There are very few in this world, who can match her intellect. Do you know that our wise Chief Minister, Aniruddha Brahmaraayar himself seeks your sister’s ideas sometimes? You should not feel bad if I praise your sister. You should instead feel proud.”

“What if our friend Vandiyathevan gets enchanted by someone else before he reaches Pazhayarai? What if he meets the famed beautiful queen of Pazhuvoor?”

Karikalan spun around and shot an angry glare at Parthibendran. The Pallava warrior shuddered and kept quiet.

“Parthibendra, I am assuming you are leaving to Lanka tomorrow. You are youngsters. The two of you must have lots to talk about. I will not let an old man like me stay here any longer. I will leave to my palace.”

The old man started walking towards the chariot. The two warriors faced the sea and looked into nothingness, not saying a word.

“My friend, my king, my leader, may I ask you a question? Something seems to be bothering you. It seems to be killing you from the inside. I also gather it has something to do with the Pazhuvoor queen, Nandhini. Whenever anyone mentions Nandhini, your demeanor changes. Your eyes become fiery red. You become angry. What is the problem? How long are you going to keep this within yourself? You have said numerous times, that I am your best friend and confidant. Can’t you even open up to me? It kills me to see you suffering like this.”

Karikalan sighed.

“My friend. This suffering that I face inside of me is something that will kill me forever. It will die with me. It is not that I do not want to tell you about it. I will tell you tonight. Come, let us go with the old king. It is not wise to send him back alone.”