Book 2 | Chapter 22 | Ponnaar Meniyane

Two of the guards pushed one of the tiger cages to a side, using a system of pulleys and wheels. They then pulled up a trap door closed with a heavy stone slab. Steps led down to the dungeon.

The royal mint of the Chozha kingdom was located in one corner of the Thanjavur fort. It was as heavily guarded as the outer gates of the fort. It was around sunset when Kundavai and Vanathi arrived at the mint. When their chariot came to a halt, the soldiers and the people around cheered and hailed the Princess of the kingdom. It was closing time, and the goldsmiths who had been minting coins through the day were leaving the mint.

The goldsmiths were being frisked and checked before they left for their homes. The Chief Soldier gave the royal ladies a tour of the mint. They saw the process of how beautiful gold ornaments and gold ingots were melted and cast into coin-shaped forms. The coins had the tiger emblem on one side and a ship emblem on the other.

“Akka, what is the advantage of converting the gold into coins?”

“You are indeed a very innocent and naïve girl. If we convert gold into coins, it will facilitate trade between neighbouring countries. It is also very easy to measure and count. It will also enable our subjects to pay taxes and other levies more easily and accurately.”

Kundavai lowered her voice and said, “There is also one unfortunate thing that this conversion facilitates. These people whom we keep hearing about, who are plotting a coup against my father – they can easily sway and buy over people and resources, to get their ulterior work done.”

The Chief Guard heard this last bit of information faintly.

“Princess, you are right. There are many such rumours floating around. The security in the mint has hence been increased significantly in recent times. The number of people who come and go to the underground dungeons below this mint has also increased.”

“I understand people coming into the dungeons have increased. But leaving it too?”

“Yes, Princess. Just yesterday, there was a prisoner who was brought in. A little while ago, they took him away again.”

The Princess and Vanathi walked through the mint towards the back gate. They reached a tall wall on which there was a small gate. They opened the gate and stepped inside. It was dark inside and the ceiling was low.

There were fearsome growling noises coming from all around. There was a guard with a torch sitting in a corner. In the light of the torch, if one looked hard enough, one could see several cages. Roaming inside each of these cages were fearsome tigers. Their eyes glowed in the light of the torch.

Kundavai grabbed Vanathi by her arm and said, “Vanathi, I hope you are not afraid. Please do not faint and fall here.”

“Akka, why should I be afraid of tigers? They are after all the symbol of our kingdom, and hence our protectors.”

“Sometimes protectors join forces with our enemies. We should be careful.”

“Akka, what do they feed these tigers?”

“Prisoners who try escaping the underground dungeon are the food for these beasts.”

“Oh God! How cruel!”

“Vanathi, such is the nature of running a kingdom. One has to do such things.”

“You should have been there when I was speaking to the Chinna Pazhuvettarayar. It almost seemed like he would imprison me in this prison.”

“Akka, I don’t think anyone would ever dare do such a thing.”

“Right now, I am worried only about the Vaidhiyar’s son. He did seem to be an innocent boy.” The tigers were growling incessantly.

“Guard, please show us to the entrance of the underground dungeon.”

Two of the guards pushed one of the tiger cages to a side, using a system of pulleys and wheels. They then pulled up a trap door closed with a heavy stone slab. Steps led down to the dungeon.

The Princess, Vanathi, and two guards descended one by one. The darkness intensified. The light of the torches showed the way down the narrow passageway. They moved slowly in a single file. The silence was broken intermittently by the gut-wrenching cries of prisoners who were kept in isolation.

In the midst of this eerie chaos, there was the sound of a sweet and melodious voice. “Ponnaaar Meniyane! Pulitholai Araikku Asaithu!”

The guard held his torch near each of the cell entrances. Some prisoners were kept in isolation. There were some cells with two prisoners. In some cells, the prisoners were chained to rings on the walls. Kundavai looked at each of the prisoners’ faces and moved on slowly.

“Akka, why are all these prisoners kept here? Are they prisoners tried by any court of law?”

“Vanathi, normal prisoners are usually tried in the court of law. These prisoners are those who committed heinous crimes of treason against the kingdom. Some of them are spies and some of them are those who abetted spies. The guards try to extract as much information as possible from them.

Once they get the required information, the prisoners are usually released. But of course, from some prisoners, one cannot recover any information – some people do not have any information – what would they do?”

By this time, the beautiful music was getting closer. When they reached the cell from where the music was coming, the Princess could see that there was a young man inside the cell, sitting in peace, singing his beautiful song.

Yes, the reader is familiar with this young man. It was Sendhan Amudhan, indeed.

The young man bowed to the Princess.

“You seem to be in good spirits, young man.”

“The omnipotent God is everywhere – including here. Why should I not be in good spirits?”

“You seem to be a gnani. What were you doing before you came here?”

“I am not a gnani, Princess. I used to make garlands and worship the Lord. Here I am singing couplets and worshipping the Lord.”

“Is this the only song you know, or do you know other songs?”

“I know a few more, but ever since I came here, I have been singing just this same song. On my way here, I passed through the mint where there were heaps of gold – which reminded me of the beautiful golden skin (Ponnaar Meni) of Lord Shiva.”

“Do you have any relatives?”

“Only my mother. Her name is Vani Ammai. She lives near the thamarai kolam (lotus pond) outside the Thanjavur fort.”

“I will let her know that you are fine and in good spirits down here.”

“That would not be of any use, Princess. Neither can she hear what you say, nor can she reply back. She is both deaf and dumb.”

“Oho. Then your name must be Sendhan Amudhan.”

“Yes, Princess.”

“And what is the crime for which you have been kept here?”

“Until yesterday, even I did not know. Just today I heard that I have been kept here for the crime of helping a spy.”

“Who was the spy you helped?”

“I met him outside the fort gates one fine day. He was looking for a place to stay. I invited him home. I did not know that he was a spy then. He said his name was Vallavarayan Vandhiyathevan.”

On the Princess’ request, Sendhan Amudhan narrated in entirety what happened between him and Vandhiyathevan.

“How is it that you helped someone whom you had just met, so much?”

“There are some people to whom you take an immediate liking. Vandhiyathevan was one such person. He was so likeable. He did not seem to be a bad person at all.”

“At the same time, there are some people whom you will hate on first look. I had one such person in my cell until some time back. Thankfully, soldiers from the Pazhuvoor Queen’s guard came and freed him some time back.”

“Hmm. Is that so? And why is it that you have so much hatred for this man?” exclaimed the Princess.

“This person said he was the son of a Vaidhiyar from Pazhayarai. Apparently, he and Vandhiyathevan had gone down to Kodikkarai together. He spoke badly about my cousin, Poonkuzhali, who lives there. Hence my anger, Princess. But there is one piece of good news that I gleaned out of him.”

“And what is that good news?”

“He says he tried to trick Vandhiyathevan into getting caught by the soldiers sent by the Pazhuvettarayar. Bloody traitor! But thankfully, Vandhiyathevan escaped.”

Both Vanathi and Kundavai exclaimed in unison, “He escaped?”

“Yes. Apparently, Poonkuzhali took him in her boat in the middle of the night to drop him off at Lanka.”

“Young man, you do not look like someone who could have done any wrong. I will ask the Fort Commander to release you.”

“Princess, I request you to grant me some more time. The old man in the next cell has been asking me to teach him a couple of songs. If I do so, he has promised me that he would tell me where he has hidden the Pandiya Coronation Crown. I will learn that secret and then come out.”

The Princess and Vanathi laughed out loudly.

“I do not want you to go mad like the person in the next cell. Then, what will I tell your mother, Vani Ammai?”

The Princess and her entourage left the dungeon. In about half an hour, some soldiers came and released Sendhan Amudhan from the underground dungeon, and guided him to the Thanjavur fort gates.

Book 2 | Chapter 21 | Who dare disobey me!

“If there is a big calamity that befalls the Chozha kingdom, it would be because of only two ladies.”

Kundavai exclaimed, “One lady is me; who is the other one?”

“The Pazhuvoor Queen, Nandini.”

Princess Kundavai’s life had taken a drastic turn. It used to be a fantasy land, where she did not know the meaning of sorrow or sadness. Life was filled with close friends and hand-maidens, who took care of each and every whim of the Princess. In recent times, she was slowly getting exposed to current affairs. Astrologers were predicting that something bad was going to happen to the Chozha kingdom. She had gotten to know about a plot to overthrow her brother from being heir-apparent. Deadly rumours roamed the streets of the city.

However, Kundavai was one who possessed a very strong will and she was confident that she could solve all this with her diligence and planned actions. She did possess adequate mental acuity to manage all this. She also noticed that she was being drawn towards this charismatic man – Vandhiyathevan. Why was she getting drawn towards him? Why had she been so badly affected when Nandini mentioned that he might be dead?

But this was no time for these thoughts. Things had to be done. She had sent word that she would be meeting the Chinna Pazhuvettarayar in the afternoon.

When the Princess went to the Chinna Pazhuvettarayar’s palace, she was warmly welcomed by the ladies of the palace. She was then ushered into the gallery, where the Chinna Pazhuvettarayar was waiting. He proudly guided the Princess through the gallery describing each of the paintings in his collection. When they came to the last painting, which was of the Chinna Pazhuvettarayar himself, she stopped and looked at him.

“This is an excellent collection. It looks like the Pazhuvettarayars have rendered much service to the royal family of this kingdom.”

“It has been our blessing to have done so.”

“But could you not wait until my father dies, to start plotting your activities to capture the throne for yourself? What is the big hurry?”

The Chinna Pazhuvettarayar was shocked. His forehead was covered with beads of perspiration. His hands were shaking. He fumbled for words.

“Oh, Princess. I am deeply hurt by listening to you talk of me like this.”

“If so, please tell me, if I have committed any mistake by sending men to gather herbs to cure my ailing father’s health?”

“Of course, it is not your mistake to have done such a noble thing.”

“Then, why did you capture the Pazhayarai Vaidhiyar’s son and bring him back to the city in chains like a common criminal? You did know that it was I, who had sent him.”

“Perhaps, oh Princess, you do not know yet, that he is a spy.”

“He can never be a spy. How can the son of a famous Vaidhiyar be a spy?”

“Well, he himself admitted that he was one.”

It was Kundavai’s turn to be shocked now.

“How could that be? What did he admit?”

“He admitted that the person traveling with him was a spy. He admitted that his companion was not really searching for any herbs but was in reality, taking a scroll to someone in Lanka.”

“This Vaidhiyar’s son is a fool. Were you not aware that the person who accompanied this fool was also sent by me?”

“Yes, Princess. I am aware. I am also aware that the companion, whose name is Vandhiyathevan, has tricked you as well. He is really a spy.”

“It cannot be. Vandhiyathevan was a trusted messenger who brought a scroll to me from my brother in Kanchipuram. He also brought a scroll for the Emperor. What proof do you have that he is a spy?”

“I know that he delivered these scrolls. Spies have their own ways of deceiving common people. If he is not a spy, why did he have to go to the Kudandhai Josiyar and ask him about the future of the Emperor?”

“Well, I had also asked about the future to the astrologer. What is wrong with that?” shot back the Princess.

“The Emperor’s daughter asking this question is different. A common man asking these questions invokes suspicion.”

“That is just your hunch. Do you have any other proof?”

“If he is not a spy, he should have come into the fort after seeking formal permission from me. Why did he have to show a ring with the palm tree insignia and get into the fort? Why did he have to lie that the Periya Pazhuvettarayar gave it to him?”

“If it was not the Periya Pazhuvettarayar who gave him the ring, who gave it to him?”

“We are still investigating about that.”

“Your men could not even find that till now?”

The Pazhuvettarayar was clearly getting irritated. “I said, we are still investigating. We have just now caught one of the spies. We will interrogate him and find out.”

“And what if he does not tell you the truth?”

“We have ways to make him tell the truth. We have the famed Thanjavur underground dungeons. The other spy had known about this. And that is why he escaped from the fort. On his way, you might have heard, he also tried to kill Sambuvarayar’s son.”

“Do you have proof for that?”

“It is just Kandanmaran’s word that we believe.”

“Hah. Just his words. I am telling you now, Kandanmaran was not stabbed by Vandhiyathevan.”

“What proof do you have for this assertion of yours, Princess?”

“I can find out from a person’s face if he is lying or is a deceitful person.”

“Huh. That spy is a lucky person. He has somehow formed a good impression on you. Unfortunately, I have not been lucky enough to be able to form that kind of an impression on you.”

“Why do you keep referring to him as a spy?”

“If he is not a spy, why did he have to enter into Pazhayarai disguised as a stage performer? Why did he have to go in disguise to Kodikkarai? When he saw my troops, why did he have to hide there for a whole day? Why did he have to sail to Lanka in the middle of the night?”

“Oho. He has escaped to Lanka? Your guards have still not been able to catch him.”

There was visible relief and happiness in Kundavai’s voice.

“Hmm. Yes. This dangerous spy is a tricky one to catch. These idiotic soldiers of mine let him escape and came back with this Vaidhiyar’s son.”

“I do not care about the spy. The Vaidhiyar’s son was sent by me. Release him immediately. He is innocent.”

“This fellow might not be the spy. But he has been an accomplice to the spy. He has been fooling my guards with all kinds of fantasy stories. He has helped the spy sail away.”

“I do not care. Release him immediately.”

“I am sorry, Princess. I am not willing to do that. In the interest of the nation’s security, I cannot do that. There are coups and traitors all over the kingdom. I am hearing rumours that the supporters of Veera Pandiyan are regrouping. These supporters have sworn to vanquish the entire Chozha royal family.”

“Let there be room for the real conspirators. Release this innocent man.”

“I am not willing to do that myself, Princess.” The Chinna Pazhuvettarayar was clearly very irritated. He fished for a large key bunch from his tunic and handed it over to the Princess.

“Here are the keys to the underground dungeons. You can go and release the man yourself. You can release any one else you deem to, as well. The repercussions of this act are solely yours.”

Kundavai suppressed the boiling anger within herself. She reached out and took the keys. “Ok. I will do it myself. And I will take responsibility for my actions.”

“If there is a big calamity that befalls the Chozha kingdom, it would be because of only two ladies.”

Kundavai exclaimed, “One lady is me; who is the other one?”

“The Pazhuvoor Queen, Nandini.”

Kundavai chuckled.

“I hope you realise what would happen to you, if your elder brother hears this statement of yours. He will exile you from this kingdom.”

“That would be perfect. I am waiting for that day.”

Book 2 | Chapter 19 | Kandanmarans Imagination

He turned towards Nandini and hissed, “I hear that Princess Kundavai is planning to come to our palace. And I hear that it was you who invited her. Why does she have to come here? Have you forgotten how she insulted you earlier?”

The inauguration function had left the Periya Pazhuvettarayar in a very irritable state. He felt that the whole function had raised the confidence of the people in the royal family. He was very irritated at the fact that land from several villages were being written off in the name of social service. He felt that at this rate, there would be nowhere he could collect taxes from. And if he did not collect taxes, the treasury would not have enough money to send for the troops, which the Emperor kept asking him to send.

He turned towards Nandini and hissed, “I hear that Princess Kundavai is planning to come to our palace. And I hear that it was you who invited her. Why does she have to come here? Have you forgotten how she insulted you earlier?”

“I neither forget good deeds that people have done for me, nor do I forget people who have insulted me.”

“Then why is she coming here?”

“She is the daughter of the Emperor of this country. She does as she pleases.”

“Then, why did you invite her?”

“I never invited her. She invited herself. She wanted to meet Kandanmaran. Could I refuse her request? There will be a time when I will refuse. Until then, I would have to be patient.”

“I cannot be in this palace when she comes. In fact, I cannot be in this town, when she comes. I have some work in Mazhapadi. It will be a few days before I return.”

“I would also prefer that. Leave this poisonous snake to me. I know how to handle her. When you return, you might hear some interesting news. Please do not be shocked when you hear them.”

“What kind of interesting news are you talking about?”

“News such as Kundavai wanting to marry Kandanmaran, or Prince Aditya Karikalan wanting to marry Kandanmaran’s sister.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Not everything that is talked about would happen.”

She looked at him with steely eyes.

“You have been telling everyone that you are going to make that effeminate fool, Madhuranthaka Thevar, the Emperor. Is that going to happen?”

He stood shell-shocked for a moment, and then slowly took her hand and kissed it. “The day when you would become Empress of the Chozha kingdom is nearing.”

Kandanmaran felt very excited about the impending visit of Princess Kundavai. He had heard about her beauty and intelligence. It was also an honour to be visited by the Princess of this large kingdom. He would have to repeat the story of his back-stabbing friend to her as well. He felt a little bad, when he thought about his participation in some of the activities that were being carried out against the royal family, to which she belonged.

When he did meet the Princess, he lost himself in her. He was completely enamoured by her humility, her beauty, and her friendly nature. He spoke to her about his own valour.

“I would have even forgiven him if he had plunged his spear into my heart. The fact that he stabbed me from behind is what makes me so angry.”

The resentment and the anger in his face even made the Princess rethink, for a moment, about whether she should believe Vandhiyathevan, or this young warrior in front of her.

“He started cheating me when we were at Kadambur itself. He did not tell me the real reason why he was going to Thanjavur. He showed some fake insignia and entered the city. He met the Emperor claiming that he had some scroll from Aditya Karikalan. Apparently, he brought you also into the story, by claiming that he was going to meet you and deliver another scroll from your brother. He has escaped from the Fort General’s guards. I still cannot believe he would be a spy. I knew him to be an eccentric person, but a spy, I cannot be sure.”

This was when Kandanmaran’s imagination took over.

“I set out in search of him and wanted to talk some sense into him. He was treading into dangerous territory. I set out alone along the outer walls of the fort. I did not want to take anyone with me, and humiliate my friend. That was when I saw someone scaling down the Thanjavur forts. I recognised it to be my friend. I accosted him and spoke with him. I asked him to tell me the real reason why he had come to Thanjavur, and I promised him all the help that I could offer. It was then he kicked me on my chest. We then started wrestling. Very soon, he accepted defeat and asked for forgiveness. I forgave him. He said he wanted to sit and talk. I led the way.”

“Suddenly he plunged a long knife into my back. And before I could react, he ran away. I lost consciousness. When I woke up next, I found myself in the house of a dumb lady.”

Kundavai smiled within herself. There were so many loopholes in the story that Kandanmaran was spinning. “How did you get to the dumb lady’s house?”

“That is what I am unable to fathom. Apparently, the dumb lady has a son, who also vanished around the same time. If he comes back, we can ask him. Else, we will have to wait until the Fort General’s troops capture Vandhiyathevan.”

“Do you think he will get caught?”

“Of course, he will. I am waiting here only with that thought in mind. I would like to talk some sense into him, and perhaps even get forgiveness from the Pazhuvettarayars.”

“I am impressed by your love for your friend.”

Just at that time, a hand-maiden ran into the house and announced, “Amma, the spy has been caught. They are bringing him into town.”

Book 2 | Chapter 18 | Thanjavur Hospital

“Apparently, someone named Vandhiyathevan, a Vaanarkula warrior from Thiruvallam, in Thondainaadu. My brother-in-law has sent men all over the country to capture the spy.”

In olden years of Tamizh Nadu, royal ladies used to participate significantly in public service. The ladies had separate trust funds, which were used to promote several activities such as temple renovation, daily rituals for temples, and food for travellers. In particular, Princess Kundavai had set up several medical facilities. We have already seen the Ayurvedic hospital at Pazhayarai. On this day, she was all set to inaugurate a hospital on the outskirts of Thanjavur.

The Garuda Mandapam opposite the Perumal temple, just outside the Thanjavur fort, was abuzz with activity. The inauguration of the Thanjavur hospital by Princess Kundavai was to start shortly in this mandapam. Crowds milled around the mandapam. There were administrative personnel, small kings and vassals, band musicians, and official engravers, who had assembled. The royal family had started to arrive. Prince Madhuranthakan came, seated very uncomfortably atop a white horse. Princess Kundavai and several others of the royal family arrived in palanquins. Nandini arrived in her own palanquin with the palm-tree insignia.

The inauguration function started when the Periya Pazhuvettarayar arrived. The temple musicians sang a Devaram song, talking about the benefits of the sacred ash – Thiruneeru.

Nandini whispered to Kundavai, “When Sambandhar sang this song, the sacred ash had such medicinal powers that it cured the Pandiya king of an incurable disease. These days, it seems, the sacred ash has lost its power. We need doctors and herbs to cure people.”

“Yes. In those times, people led a dharmic life. It was because of this that the sacred ash had such powers. These days, people lead lives filled with sins. There are even people who are conspiring against the King and the royal family. Have we ever heard of such things in the past?”

“I am surprised that there are people plotting against the King. Who are they?”

“I am not sure, but I am still investigating. Very soon, I will find out. I am planning to stay on in Thanjavur until I find out about everything.”

“I will try and help you with anything that you require of me, Princess. I will have to leave soon. We have a visitor at home – the Kadambur prince, Kandanmaran. He is a handsome young fellow. He is in a pitiful mental state right now though. He keeps mumbling something about a spy and a backstabber. He keeps talking about a close friend who had turned traitor.”

“Who could have committed such a bad thing?”

“Apparently, someone named Vandhiyathevan, a Vaanarkula warrior from Thiruvallam, in Thondainaadu. My brother-in-law has sent men all over the country to capture the spy.”

“Hmm. I seem to recognise that name somewhere. How do we know if he is indeed a spy?”

“I do not know anything about this. All this information came from Kandanmaran. If you want to know more, you should probably come and talk to him.”

“Yes, I will come and meet him sometime. The Sambuvarayar clan has been loyal to us for several generations.”

By this time, the Devaram music had ended. The accountants ceremoniously read out details of the donations of land and money towards setting up the hospital. The engravers recorded this on brass plaques. On behalf of the treasury, the Periya Pazhuvettarayar ceremoniously handed over the plaques to the accountants to be formalised. Various formal announcements were made, such as the amount allocated for the Chief Doctor’s salary. There were also agreements in kind, such as the donation of milk for the patients’ consumption.

Cheers praising the royal family members rose from the crowd.

Book 2 | Chapter 17 | Coronation Memories

“Dead people can be more cruel than living people. In recent times, the ghost of the dumb girl has begun haunting me. I am not even sure if you will believe this, Kundavai.”

So far, the Emperor had been narrating the story in a third person perspective. He now continued telling as if it was his own story.

“Kundavai, I am going to now tell you some things that I have not told anyone. Only my close friend Aniruddhan knows these events. Even he does not know all of it. These are things that no father would have to tell his own child. But I cannot get myself to tell this to your mother or to your brothers. I am sure you will listen and not laugh at me.”

“From that island, I took the boat to the mainland towards Kodikkarai. I headed straight to Thanjavur, where my grandfather, Paranthakar, was on his death bed.”

“When I reached there, I realised that the great Chozha Empire was in the throes of being shattered into a thousand pieces. The heir to the throne, Rajaditta Chozhan had died in the Thakkolam war. My father Arunjayar had also been grievously wounded in the same war and was fighting for his life. The Canara forces were aggressively striking Thondai Mandalam. Pandiya forces were advancing in the west. In the east, our forces had lost the war in Lanka. My grandfather was a dejected man. The kingdom that he had built over 40 years was on the brink of destruction.”

“At this stage, when he saw me, he saw hope. I had always been his favourite grandson. When I was young, he would never let me out of his sight. I had adamantly left for the Eezham war without his consent. When the forces told him that I was missing, he had continuously been sending ships towards Lanka to search for me. One such search party had found me.”

“He looked at me with hope. He saw a ruler in me. His astrologers had also confirmed the same. On his deathbed, he told me that, after him, my uncle Kandaraaditha Chozhan would take up the throne, and after him, I should become Emperor. He made me promise that ruling this Chozha Kingdom virtuously should be my life’s ambition.”

“My mind was never at peace. It always went back to the tribal girl who had saved my life once. How could I forget her? But, how could I make her my queen? How could I make a tribal deaf and dumb girl as the queen of the Chozha Empire? What would my subjects think of me?”

“Soon after, my grandfather passed away. My uncle, Kandaraaditha Chozhan was crowned Emperor, and I was crowned heir to the Empire.”

“Kundavai, do you see how much love the Chozha subjects shower on your younger brother, Arulmozhi? In those times, they showered me with the same love.”

“On the evening of the coronation ceremony, my uncle and I went up to the upper terrace of the palace to present ourselves to the people. When we stepped out, the crowd roared and cheered in happiness. One could genuinely see the happiness in each of the faces.”

“Suddenly, among those thousands gathered to see us, one face captured my attention – the one sad face in the entire gathering. She had tears in her eyes. The sadness was palpable. It was her – the tribal deaf and dumb girl from the island. My eyes were fixed on her. I saw visions of her face becoming bigger and coming closer. My head was spinning. My legs lost their strength. I fainted. The others thought that I was tired because of all the coronation ceremonies happening since morning.”

“Later, when I gained consciousness, I called my dear friend Aniruddhan to my side, and asked him to go and find the girl. They searched the entire city but could not find her. I asked Aniruddhan to send people to search for her all over the kingdom.”

“Eventually, Aniruddhan’s men reached Kodikkarai where they found a dumb girl at the lighthouse keeper’s house. The men reported that the girl was in a state of madness. However much the men had tried to explain to her, she had refused to come to Thanjavur.”

“After a few restless days, Aniruddhan and I set off to Kodikkarai. We drove our horses as fast as we could. My thoughts were clouded and confused me. What could I do, if I did met her at Kodikkarai? It was also most unfortunate that I was born a very beautiful boy, and as I had grown up, the entire kingdom was enamoured by my beauty – so much so that, the people of the kingdom completely changed my name from Paranthaka Chozhan to Sundara Chozhan. How could I, who was so worshipped, loved, and admired by my people, take this dumb girl back to Thanjavur or Pazhayarai as my queen?”

“The girl somehow had made my life easier. When we reached Kodikkarai, we heard that the day after Aniruddhan’s men had come asking for her, she had climbed atop the lighthouse and plunged into the ocean. A couple of folks had seen her jump and alerted others. They had taken their boats and searched for her, but could not find her. It was sadly assumed that she had committed suicide and Samudrarajan had engulfed her.”

“My mind was split in two. One half was splintered at the loss of her. The other half seemed to be at peace. The question of what would I do with her was now answered. With these conflicting thoughts, I returned to Thanjavur. I immersed myself in royal affairs. I won wars and expanded the kingdom. I married your mother. I had two beautiful sons, and then you.”

“However, I still could not forget her death. The sight of her jumping from the top of the lighthouse into the ocean still vividly comes to mind. I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night with a shock. I have always assured others around me that it was a bad dream of scenes from the various wars that I had been through.”

“Dead people can be more cruel than living people. In recent times, the ghost of the dumb girl has begun haunting me. I am not even sure if you will believe this, Kundavai.”

The Emperor seemed to look into a distance with glazed eyes.

“Appa! You have lived with this guilt and suffering for so many years. No wonder, your illness has grown worse over the years. Now that you have told me about it, I feel that your heart will be lighter and you will become stronger.”

Kundavai’s eyes brimmed with tears.

“I can see that you do not believe in ghosts. But, the ghost of the dumb girl comes here often. She stands beside that pillar, behind that lamp there. If you do not believe me, ask your friend Vanathi. I am sure she saw the ghost too. I think she must have fainted only after seeing the ghost.”

“Appa, Vanathi is a very fearful person by nature. She would run in fear even if she saw a pillar in the darkness. I doubt if she saw or heard anything the other night. It is a surprise to me that she is of the courageous warrior clan of Kodumbalur.”

“Anyway, let us not talk about Vanathi. Let me finish what I have to say.”

“Do you remember the day when we were all sailing down the Ponni river – the day when the young Arulmozhi suddenly went missing? Do you remember the lady who came in the water with the young boy in her arms?”

“Yes, Appa, how I can I forget that day?”

“Do you remember that after taking Arulmozhi and handing him to people in the boat, I also fell unconscious? You all thought that I had fainted due to the stressful events of the day.” Kundavai nodded silently.

“It was not the stressful events, my dear girl. If you remember, the lady from the water vanished soon after I had taken the boy from her. All of you had decided that it was the Goddess Kaveri.”

The old king paused.

“It was not the Goddess. The lady who gave me Arulmozhi was the deaf and dumb girl from Lanka – the same lady love of mine. Had she really died? Was this a ghost? I fainted in confusion.”

“Do you remember the day of your brother’s coronation as Crown Prince? Karikalan had come to the anthapuram, and I had followed him in. I saw her again, this time, amidst the ladies of the palace. She was there glaring at Karikalan with such contempt. That was when I had fainted again. The ghost has been haunting me ever since.”

“In recent times, she has been coming down here in the middle of the night, and warning me. It seems that she has forgiven me for driving her to her death. But she has been warning me that I should not be committing the same sin again. She has been telling me that I should not be giving the kingdom to someone who does not rightfully inherit it.”

The old king caught his daughter’s hands and said, “Will you help me, Kundavai? I do not want this cursed kingdom to go to my sons. Please help me to dispose it off to Madhuranthakan.”

“I have been stuck with this guilty consciousness ever since I became the heir to the throne, and again, when I was made emperor. I felt terrible that I became king when my uncle’s son was still alive. I am being cursed now for what I had done before.”

“Let Karikalan also not have this kingdom, nor Arulmozhi. Let them not inherit a cursed kingdom. Let Madhuranthakan have it. I would like Madhuranthakan to be crowned when I am still alive. After that, I will go off to Karikalan’s golden palace in Kanchi, and rest in peace.”

“Appa, will the Royal Matron agree to this?”

“That is where I need your help. I need you to bring her here. I wonder why the wise Royal Matron had not thought of this before. I wonder what she has against her own son. Why did she have to do all this? Anyway, now that Madhuranthakan has a desire to ascend the throne, it is only right that she agrees to crown him as the head of this kingdom.”

“Appa, it is not enough if one has the desire. One must have the capability to rule this kingdom.”

“How can he not have the capability – he who was born to Emperor Kandaraaditha and the Royal Matron?”

“The subjects of this kingdom will never accept him.”

“My girl, if you ask the subjects, they would have crowned your younger brother, Arulmozhi, as the heir by now. Would that have been right? Would Arulmozhi have accepted it? Not everything should be done according to the wishes of the subjects. Now, please help me. Please request the Royal Matron to come and visit me.”

“I will ensure that she comes. Until then, you take care of yourself.”

On the way out, she paid her respects to Queen Vaanama Devi.

Things were slowly beginning to clear up in Kundavai’s mind. The smoke was clearing up. She began to realise that this was all part of a treacherous plot by a group of people trying to capture the kingdom. She realised that her father, her brothers, and the family were in grave danger. She also realised that she was now bearing the heavy responsibility of protecting her family from this danger.

Book 2 | Chapter 16 | The Emperor confides to his daughter

That was when that the warrior realised that the girl was deaf and dumb. The warrior’s heart broke. Yet, his love for the girl increased. He did not feel that the loss of the two senses was significant. Her expressive eyes compensated for them.”

The next morning, the Emperor summoned his favourite daughter. He ordered the doctor, soldier, and others to go out of the room, so that he could speak in private to her.

“Appa, are you angry with me?”

“Why should I be angry with my dear girl?”

“I defied your orders and came to Thanjavur.”

“Yes. You should not have come here. This palace is not amenable for young girls like you to live in. You should now be aware of what happened last night? I am talking about the way the Kodumbalur princess was found unconscious yesterday night. How is she now?”

“She is fine now. She used to be like this even in Pazhayarai. She used to faint often, but then she would recover very quickly.”

“Did you ask her if she saw or heard anything in this palace that caused her to faint?”

“Yes. I asked, and she was saying something about losing her way trying to find the terrace. She was also saying that she heard someone crying piteously for help. And then she became afraid and fainted.”

“That is what I also thought. And this is why I do not want you to stay here. There are ghosts in this palace that roam around in the night.”

The Emperor shivered and his eyes glazed.

“If that is so, why are you still here in Thanjavur? Should you and mother not come to Pazhayarai too? I do not see any improvement in your health, by you being here.”

“My health is not going to improve. I have lost hope.”

“Why are you being so negative? The Pazhayarai Vaidhiyar seems to think that you can definitely be cured.”

“And I know you sent someone to Lanka to procure herbs for curing me. Do you love your father so much, my dear girl?”

She hugged him. “Of course.”

“Honestly, I am very happy that you have come here. I need to tell you something.”

“My illness is not physical. It is due to mental stress. I am under so much stress, that I cannot even rule this small kingdom of mine.”

“But then, why should you strain yourself? You have two wonderful sons. When you have them, why should you worry?”

“That is my worry, my girl. I am wondering if it would be the right thing to hand over this kingdom to my sons. This kingdom comes with a curse.”

“What curse can possibly come from this kingdom? The Chozha kingdom is the pride of South India. Our ancestors have done so much good in the past. Our ancestors include the great Manu Needhi Chozhan and Sibi Chakravarthy. How can you say that such a kingdom comes with a curse?”

“Appa, I think you are in a dazed mental state. Please come with me to Pazhayarai.”

“I would love to come to beautiful Pazhayarai, but this kingdom still exists only because I am here. If I leave, this kingdom will shatter. The play that was conducted yesterday – do you recall what happened during the play? Did you see the way the different camps of Pazhuvoor and Kodumbalur were boisterously cheering?

Imagine what would happen if I am not here. These camps would just start fighting openly. Like Lord Krishna’s curse, this kingdom will implode within itself, with these people fighting among themselves.”

“I do not want these people to fight among themselves. In the last hundred years, both these families have stood by the Emperor’s side and helped build the kingdom.”

“But what if I said that one of these families might be plotting against you?” The Emperor clearly was shaken. “What are you saying, Kundavai?”

“People who are pretending to be very close to you are plotting against you. They are plotting to ensure that your sons do not ascend the throne. They are planning to crown Madhuranthakan as Emperor.”

“Aha. If only they succeed in doing so, it would gladden me.”

Kundavai was shocked.

“Appa, what are you saying? Do you not want your sons to ascend the throne?”

“I do not want them to get this cursed kingdom. I would be glad if Madhuranthakan becomes Emperor. Would he accept?”

“He would gladly accept. But I am extremely shocked and upset at your views. Would you even want to ask my brother?”

“Of course, I would need to ask Aditya Karikalan. I would also need to ask the Royal Matron.”

“You are very close to the Matron. Please go to her and convince her to change her mind about Madhuranthakan becoming Emperor. Then, go to Kanchi, and convince Adityan to give up his rights over this accursed kingdom.”

Kundavai was shocked and had no words.

“Appa, you keep mentioning about a curse. What curse is this?”

“Sometimes, I get these haunting memories. I have not spoken to anyone about this. Please do not tell anyone about this.”

The Emperor sighed and looked up at the ceiling. And then, he began talking.

“It was an island. The waters were calm. The small island had a lot of greenery. Behind some bushes, there was a young warrior crouching. He was staring intently at a boat. He was staring until the boat was out of sight. He seemed to be relieved that he had escaped being spotted by someone in the boat.”

“The warrior was of a royal family, but was not the heir to any throne. He did not have any desire to rule either. His father had been the youngest of three brothers. Hence, he had never even imagined being the heir. He had joined the army and had a small force with him. He had embarked on a war on a distant land. The army had been defeated badly. The warrior’s force had been completely decimated. While the remaining few soldiers readied to head back to their land, this warrior did not want to go back. How could he, who had lost his entire force, head back? He found it disgraceful.”

“Silently, without anyone knowing, he had jumped off the boat, and had swum to this little island. And he waited for the ship to vanish out of his sight. He then explored the island. The island seemed to be uninhabited. He suddenly heard a human voice – it was the voice of a lady. He turned around and saw a ferocious bear chasing a young girl.

The bear was catching up to her. He grabbed his spear and flung it at the bear. The spear wounded the bear, but did not kill it. The girl was safe, but the wounded bear had turned towards the warrior. The bear and the warrior wrestled for a short time, but the warrior was victorious.”

“He then looked around and searched for her. His eyes found her, hiding behind a coconut tree. He realised that she was a tribal girl. Her behaviour and her mannerisms gave her away. She did have a wide smile on her face – happy to be alive, he guessed. But her beauty was unmatched. He had never seen anyone as beautiful as her.”

“He tried approaching her, but she started running. He did not follow her. He realised that this was a small island, and that he would meet her again very soon. He was tired. He lay down on the sandy beach.”

“Very soon, she returned. With her, came a man. He came to know that he was from a fisherman community, which lived in the Lankan coastline. The man told our warrior that the girl had saved his life from a bear. The man had been on a tree, when the bear had attacked. The girl had distracted the bear and saved his life.”

“The warrior noticed that, for all the questions that he had been asking, the girl did not reply. It had always been the man who had answered. That was when that the warrior realised that the girl was deaf and dumb. The warrior’s heart broke. Yet, his love for the girl increased. He did not feel that the loss of the two senses was significant. Her expressive eyes compensated for them.”

“The warrior stayed on in this heavenly island with his lady love. Days turned into months, and months into years. He stopped keeping count of time. This heavenly time ended very abruptly.

One fine day, a ship anchored close to the island. Men came down to the island in rafts. He came to know that they had come for him.”

“He came to know of several untoward incidents that had happened in his kingdom – an uncle passing away, an uncle who did not have any children, and his father grievously wounded. He came to know that he was suddenly the Emperor that his kingdom was waiting for. He did not want to leave his heavenly island and his lovely lady. Yet, he had to go. His kingdom was waiting for him. He had no choice.”

“He promised a thousand times to the girl, that he would be back. The tribal girl, who had been raised in this isolated island, did not even want to come out in the open, in front of these strange men. As the warrior boarded the ship, he saw the girl sitting on top of a bent coconut tree trunk, with tears streaming down her beautiful face.”

“Kundavai, this sad scene keeps coming to my mind all the time. “

“There is one more scene, which keeps coming back to haunt me. Can I tell you about that scene too? Will you listen to me?”

Kundavai was choking with sorrow, but managed to nod her head, egging him to continue.

Book 2 | Chapter 14 | The Princess Arrives

The retinue stopped. Kundavai got down from the elephant. Nandini got out of the palanquin and went up to the Princess to welcome her. The Princess accepted the welcome with a smile. The citizens of the city took in the sight of the two most beautiful women in their kingdom, smile at each other. A roar went up in the crowds.

The residents of the city of Thanjavur were naturally excited. The city wore a festive look. The Princess was coming. There was already a large crowd that was beginning to gather at the gates of the city to welcome the Princess. As much as the people loved Arulmozhi, they loved their Princess even more. Not a day passed, without someone mentioning the beauty or the mental acuity of the Princess.

When the Princess eventually appeared on the horizon, the doors of the fort flew open. A royal retinue from within the fort set out to welcome her. The royal retinue was led by the two Pazhuvettarayars seated atop elephants. Right behind the elephants was the beautiful palanquin that the readers are already familiar with. Behind the silken screens of the palanquin sat the beautiful Pazhuvoor Queen – Nandini.

The retinue stopped. Kundavai got down from the elephant. Nandini got out of the palanquin and went up to the Princess to welcome her. The Princess accepted the welcome with a smile. The citizens of the city took in the sight of the two most beautiful women in their kingdom, smile at each other. A roar went up in the crowds.

While the people of the city almost worshipped their Princess, there had been a bit of resentment towards Nandini from the beginning. But now, having seen her step out to welcome the Princess, the crowds were very pleased. What the crowds did not hear was the stinging conversation between the two ladies.

“Devi! Welcome. We are blessed to have you visit us. We were worried that you might have forgotten about us.”

“Hmm. I was wondering if you had forgotten about me, since you have not visited Pazhayarai either.”

“Moths are naturally attracted to beautiful flowers. People will come to Pazhayarai. But who will come to this ugly Thanjavur city?”

“How can you call this beautiful city ugly? I thought that the city has power and wealth imprisoned within it?”

“That is what I have heard as well. I hear that the Chakravarthy is imprisoned here. But then, you are here now, to save him.”

One could see sparks of fire in Nandini’s eyes when she said these words.

Kundavai laughed sarcastically. “I was not thinking about the Emperor. No man on this earth can imprison Emperor Sundara Chozhan. I was thinking about the beautiful Nandini Devi.”

“Please tell this when my lord is around. He does seem to keep me as though I am in prison. If you can put in a word…”

“What is my word worth here? Also, the prison that you are imprisoned in is the prison of love, and that too, the prison of love of an older man. There is nothing that I can do.”

There was a minor commotion in the crowd near where they were standing. One of the ladies came forward and mentioned that they wanted access to come to the fort during the nine nights of Navarathri. They complained about the strict rules of entry into the fort.

“Rani Nandini, can you not talk to your husband or your brother-in-law, and get permission for these people? Surely, these ladies cannot be a cause for security concern. The Pazhuvettarayar brothers have such control all the way up to the shores of this kingdom.”

“Devi, why do you limit it by the shores? You will soon see that it extends far beyond the shores too.” Kundavai wondered what this evil lady meant.

Meanwhile, Nandini had walked up to the Periya Pazhuvettarayar and communicated the Princess’ wish of letting the women into the fort for the festival.

“Ah. Would anyone object to the wishes of the Princess?” All of them now turned back and went into the fort.

Navarathri was celebrated with gaiety in Thanjavur. The ceremonies were held on a grand scale. The two beautiful ladies joined in the festivities. While the public were regaled by the presence of these two ladies, sparks flew between them in every fiery conversation. Sarcasm and blatant hate became the norm of every dialogue. They resembled two venomous snakes fighting each other.

If there was one person who was affected by all of this, it was the Kodumbalur princess, Vanathi. Kundavai did not have enough time for her. Vanathi sought out a world of her own, and lived in her own solitary thoughts.

Book 2 | Chapter 13 | Ponniyin Selvan

While the Princess’s mind was flitting between so many of these thoughts, Vaanathi’s clear thoughts were focused on only one person – Prince Arulmozhi. She was worrying about the Prince, and the potential hardships that he was facing in Lanka. She was thinking about when he would return.

While Vandhiyathevan was walking towards Maathottam, and while Nambi was narrating his experiences to Chief Minister Aniruddha Brahmaraayar, Princess Kundavai and her best friend Vanathi were nearing Thanjavur in a covered ambari atop an elephant. The Princess had not travelled to Thanjavur for a while, because of one predominant reason. Thanjavur did not have separate palaces for the ladies of the royalty. Everyone had to reside in the main palace of the Emperor. The rest of the palaces in the city had been taken over by the Pazhuvettarayars, their family, and various members of the administration.

In Pazhayarai, Princess Kundavai and her hand-maidens could come and go as they pleased from their independent palaces. Movements in Thanjavur fort were much more restricted because of security rules imposed by the Pazhuvettarayars. The Princess did not also like the attitude of the Pazhuvoor queen. It was also the wish of the ageing Emperor that the Princess stay at Pazhayarai.

However, ever since she had met Vandhiyathevan and heard his stories, she had felt very guilty about being in Pazhayarai. Her elder brother was in Thondainaadu, the younger was fighting a war in Lanka – it did not feel right not to be with her father in Thanjavur. She felt obligated to play a role in the administrative affairs of the Kingdom. The sinister plots that Vandhiyathevan had mentioned reaffirmed her decision to go to Thanjavur and be with her father. Her father’s life itself might be in danger. She guessed that several of these plots were being driven by her arch-enemy Nandini. She had to be there at Thanjavur.

There was one other reason why she had to be at Thanjavur. She had to get regular updates about Vandhiyathevan. She had heard that the Pazhuvettarayars had sent guards to capture Vandhiyathevan. If the guards were indeed successful in capturing him, they would bring him to Thanjavur. She could help reduce the sentence and perhaps even free him. The Princess also had one more thing in her mind – she had to somehow convince Kandanmaran that it was not Vandhiyathevan who had stabbed him in the back.

While the Princess’s mind was flitting between so many of these thoughts, Vanathi’s clear thoughts were focused on only one person – Prince Arulmozhi. She was worrying about the Prince, and the potential hardships that he was facing in Lanka. She was thinking about when he would return.

Suddenly, Vanathi turned towards the Princess and asked her, “Akka, you told me that you would tell me the story of how your brother got the name – Ponniyin Selvan. At the rate at which this elephant is moving, it would take a while to get to Thanjavur.”

The Princess agreed to tell the story.

When Emperor Sundara Chozhan had just come to power, the whole family used to go on cruises down the River Ponni. The yacht would be filled with happiness and laughter. The children used to be on one side of the craft, having fun, while the elders would be sitting on the other side, indulging in light banter. This used to happen on a regular basis, providing a respite from the stressful life of the Emperor.

On one such excursion, Princess Kundavai had suddenly noticed that Prince Arulmozhi was not to be found. Out of everyone in the family, Kundavai was the one who was closest to Arulmozhi. At this time,

Arulmozhi was five years of age, and Kundavai, seven. When she could not find her brother, she started shouting to attract the attention of the elders. Everyone started searching the boat, but in vain. The ladies started wailing. Some of the soldiers and the Emperor himself jumped into the water to search.

At that very moment, an amazing sight was seen. Right in front of the anchored boat, there was a lady who had the Prince raised in her arms. She was half way submerged in water. When the Emperor saw this sight, he swiftly swam to the lady, and took his child into his arms. By this time, more soldiers had reached close to him. Hands grabbed the child and pulled him on board. More people helped the Emperor to board the yacht. Once on board the yacht, the Emperor fell unconscious. In the confusion that ensued and the relief that was felt, no one remembered to look for the lady who had helped save the Prince. No one even remembered how she looked like. The lady did not come forward to claim the pride either. She just vanished.

People assumed that it was the Goddess Kaveri herself had come to the rescue of the Prince. People familiar with this incident started calling him – Ponniyin Selvan.

Book 1 | Chapter 45 | Stealer of Hearts

Gangai konda Chozhapuram — pic src: navrangindia.blogspot.com

The next morning, the sun was shining bright, warming up the front verandah of the Princess’s palace. An elephant with a howdah came and stood near the entrance. Kundavai and Vaanathi climbed up a flight of stairs and got into the howdah.

The elephant trundled slowly towards the Paranthaka Chozha Hospital. The heavy footsteps and the sound of the small bell around its neck was enough to get people off its way. The mahout walked briskly next to the elephant. The onlookers paid their respects when they saw the two ladies on top of the elephant. They thundered down the street and passed through the cantonment area. There were roosters, sheep, pet dogs tied to the front of the houses. Young boys were playing pretend war with bamboo sticks. There were pictures of wars and fighting on the verandah walls of the houses. There was general commotion when the elephant passed through the streets.

There were several who hailed the Princess and the Emperor. Some people followed the elephant. At the end of the road was the hospital. Princess Kundavai had established this hospital for the sake of the families whose men-folk were part of the army. Several of them were fighting in Eezhanaadu at this moment. She had built the hospital using her own funds and had named it after her ancestor.

Whenever the Princess came to the hospital, she would enquire about the wellness of these people.

“I hope the hospital is being helpful. Are the doctors coming regularly? Are there enough medicines available?”

There was general agreement among the public that the hospital was being very useful. Several people came forward and shared anecdotes of how the hospital was being helpful.

“It fills me with happiness, that our ancestors have specialized in medicine, and that the doctors here are able to use the knowledge to help all of you.”

Someone shouted, “Make way for the Chief Doctor.”

The aged doctor came forward and paid his respects to the Princess.

“Chief Doctor, you were saying you wanted someone to go to Kodikkarai and get some medicinal herbs. I had sent a warrior for the same. Did he come and meet you?”

“Yes, Princess. That perky young man has come. I will send my son with him. My son can bring back the herbs, while the warrior can leave for Lanka from there.”

“Do you need medicines from Lanka as well?”

“Oh yes. If you remember, when Lakshmana was hurt, in the Ramayana, Hanuman went to get the Sanjeevani Mountain. Hanuman is said to have crossed the seas to Lanka at Kodikkarai, and hence some medicinal herbs are available there. Since the Sanjeevani Mountain itself is in Lanka, there are several more herbs that we can get there. If only I can get the medicines that I want from Lanka, I think I can cure the Emperor completely.”

“Where are the two young men now?”

They are inside, getting ready for the journey. They wanted to meet you before they left.

Vandiyathevan was dressed in a different kind of attire, to not attract attention.

“Are you the person who agreed to go to Lanka and get the medicines for the doctor?”

Vandiyathevan’s eyes met hers. “Yes, Princess. I am the one.”

“I may even get to meet the Prince there. Is there any message that you want me to give him?”

“Yes. Please tell him that the Kodumbalur Princess Vaanathi has still not been cured of her sickness. She still keeps fainting often. And if the Prince wants to see her in good health, he should come immediately and see her.”

“I will pass on the message.”

Vaanathi blushed red. “Please do not tell him that. Tell the Prince that Princess Kundavai has been taking care of Vaanathi very well.”

“I will pass on this message as well.”

Kundavai was amused. “How will you pass on both the messages? One of them is the truth and the other is not.’

“Princess, I will pass on both the messages, and I will leave it to the Prince to figure out which is the truth.”

The Princess looked at the doctor, “Have the official scrolls that I had asked for, arrived?”

“Yes, Princess. Two scrolls have been received. One official scroll states that these two warriors are going on official business for collecting herbs for the Emperor, and that any and every one should ensure safe passage for them. The second scroll is specifically addressed to the Kodikkarai lighthouse keeper. I have handed over the scrolls to them.”

“It is all settled, then. I think you should leave right away.”

Princess Kundavai and Vaanathi headed towards the elephant. Vandiyathevan and the doctors’ son headed towards two royal horses, rearing up and raring to go.

Kundavai gave some last minute information about some dangers that Vandiyathevan could possibly face on the way. And the two parties parted ways.

The warriors mounted the horses. He turned and took a last look at the Princess. He kicked the horse into a quick gallop.

Kundavai smiled and wondered how her heart had gone out to this smart young warrior.

Akka, what are you thinking about?”

“I was thinking about this arrogant warrior. I am even wondering why I chose him to deliver a message to my brother.”

“Yes. He seems to be a big thief too.”

“Why are you calling him a thief, and that too a big one?”

“Normal thieves steal gold and silver. This big thief is attempting to steal the heart of the Princess of the Chozha kingdom.”

The two ladies laughed heartily. “Nothing like that will happen.”

On the way back to the palace, there was a group of women who wished to speak to the Princess.

As the elephant came to a stop, one of them stepped forward and said, “Princess, we have no information about how our troops are doing in Lanka. We also hear that the Thanjavur leaders have not been sending food for them. Without food, how will our warriors fight?”

“Do not worry. Food is being shipped to them from Maamallapuram. Also, do you think your Prince Arulmozhi will keep quiet if he comes across such happenings? He will never let such a thing happen.”

The elephant continued towards the palace.

Book 1 | Chapter 44 | Bring back Arulmozhi

Pazhayarai ruins (img src: flickr)

Kundavai read through the palm leaf with intense concentration. When she finished reading the message, her tense face relaxed into a wide smile. “Now that you have delivered your message, what do you intend to do?”

Devi, my job is done. I guess I have to turn back home now.”

“No. Your work is not done. It is just beginning.”

“I don’t understand, Devi.”

“The message says that I can take your help for any surreptitious secretive activities. Aren’t you going to help me?”

“I did agree to my Master about that. But, please, I beg you not to assign me anything that is critical.”

“Why do you say so? Is it the practice of the Vaanar clan to go back on promises? Or is it that you do not want to take orders from a woman?”

She hesitated. “Or, is it because you hate me?”

Devi. How can it ever be so? How can someone hate you? How can I hate you?”

“Did my brother tell you about this message?”

“Yes, my lady. He did tell me about this. But I think, my journey probably did not start auspiciously. I had to fight off so many enemies on the way. My best friend thinks I am his enemy. Soldiers are searching for me everywhere. In this situation, how can I assure you that I can execute any job that you give me with full confidence? I do not want to fail in the jobs that you give me.”

“Who are those enemies? Can you share with me?”

“The Pazhuvettarayars have sent their forces to search all over for me. My best friend Kandanmaran thinks that I stabbed him on his back. There is a person who is pretending to be a Veera Vaishnavar, named Alwarkadiyaan Nambi, who is following me everywhere. The Pazhuvoor queen, Nandhini, has sent a magician after me. I do not know who will catch me first?”

At that time, he remembered his most recent encounter with the magician. He had just gotten out of the swirling waters of the river. He had wanted to wait until darkness, so that he could move more swiftly and without being detected. Once darkness had set in, he had started walking along the river banks. Just after midnight, he had felt very tired, and had seen a desolate mandapam. The moon was shining very brightly and was lighting the front part of the mandapam. He had moved backwards into the darkness to sleep for a while.

He had just settled in, when he had heard the sound of an owl. This was the same sound that he had heard in the garden of the Pazhuvoor queen’s palace. It had been the magician. He had walked towards the mandapam. Vandiyathevan had hid behind a pillar. The magician had kept walking towards the pillar towards him and had caught Vandiyathevan by his neck.

The magician had screamed, “Give me the insignia ring right now. If you do not, I will kill you right here.”

Vandiyathevan had almost choked to death. Vandiyathevan had braced his hand towards the pillar and had kicked the magician with all of his strength. The magician had fallen back with a howl. The magician had landed on another pillar. The unstable pillar had brought the roof above them crumbling down. Vandiyathevan had started running, and had not stopped until he was sure, he was far away.

Vandiyathevan was suddenly shaken out of his thoughts. He saw Kundavai’s peaceful face, and he was filled with relief.

Kundavai was asking him, “How long has it been, since you left Kanchi?”

“It has been a week and one day.”

“Oho. You have earned so many enemies in such a small time. It is indeed surprising.”

“It is a long story.”

“Which I am willing to hear fully.”

She looked at the priest, “How much can we trust the boatman?”

The priest replied, “He is deaf in both ears. He cannot hear a thing.”

“Then I think we need to take a boat ride. I want to hear this young man’s story.”

Vandiyathevan was overjoyed at the thought of a boat ride with the beautiful Princess. He thought to himself that he would tell the story with as much details as possible, so that it would take the longest time. Little did he realize that, as the story progressed, Kundavai was becoming more and more impatient to hear what had happened next. However long the story is, there had to be an ending. And as Vandiyathevan was nearing his story’s ending, the boat was banking back on to the shore. When they got back to the shore, they could still hear the melodious music.

She suddenly turned to him asked, “How did you manage to get inside Pazhayarai?”

Vandiyathevan answered in his usual witty manner, “Kamsan helped me.”

He then went on to explain his answer. He narrated how he had met this group of actors, and how he had convinced them that he was a better actor than the one playing Kamsan. The Kamsan performer had to wear a wooden mask, which would protect his identity. He had slipped into the city easily with the troupe. After the dancing and theatrics was done, he had sought out Eesana Shiva Bhattar, whom the Prince had recommended to seek for help.

“And, here I am.”

Kundavai was very impressed with this young man. Her eyes and face showed the appreciation.

“In this dark time of the Chozha politics, I am glad the almighty Goddess Durga has sent me this young warrior to be of help to me.”

“But you have not given me any tasks yet? Only if you do, I can prove myself to you.”

“I am going to give you some tasks that will be much more dangerous than what you have been through so far.”

Vandiyathevan secretly thought to himself that he would do anything for this lovely lady. He would go and capture the moon for her, if she ordered it.

The Princess turned around and walked towards a nearby building. The priest and Vandiyathevan followed her. She sat down by a marble table and wrote out a message on a palm leaf.

“Dear Ponniyin Selvan, please come back to Pazhayarai with the bearer of this message. You can get more details from this messenger. He can be trusted completely.”

She rolled the message and gave it to Vandiyathevan.

“I want you to leave without any delay to Eezhanaadu and deliver this to my brother Arulmozhi.”

I would like you to bring him back immediately with you.

Vandiyathevan was ecstatic. He had just met one of the two people whom he had wanted to desperately meet in his lifetime — the beautiful Kundavai. Through this charming lady, he was going to meet the other person whom he had wanted to meet — Prince Arulmozhi.

Devi, I will start immediately.”

As she gave the scroll to him, her fingers accidentally brushed his palm. He shivered. He felt as if his chest would burst. He felt a thousand butterflies flying in front of him. He heard a thousand nightingales cooing in harmony. He saw thousands of rose flower petals fall around him. His gaze met hers. He could not get himself to talk anything. But his eyes had communicated what had to be said.

Eesana Shiva Bhattar cleared his throat, and once again, Vandiyathevan was brought back to his senses.