Book 2 | Chapter 33 | Lotus Feet

There are only two forms of sculpture that have impressed me – the Natarajar sculptures of our Chozhanaadu, and the Buddhas of Lanka.

At the crack of dawn, the next morning, the Prince, Vandhiyathevan and Nambi left the camp and moved towards Anuradhapuram. After following a forest trail for a little while, they hit the Rajapaattai. The Prince had not brought any guards with him for protection.

Vandhiyathevan was feeling on top of the world. He had finished the work that the Princess had given him. Also, his long-time wish of meeting the Prince had come true. And had he just met the Prince? He had even befriended him. He recollected the events of the previous day. He was so friendly with his troops. He was still surprised to see the unaffected common man in this war zone. He reflected upon the differences between the war strategy of the brutal Aditya Karikalan and the benevolent strategy of Arulmozhi Varman.

When they were nearing Anuradhapuram, the Prince stopped his horse near a large Buddha statue. This whole island had so many such beautiful and large Buddha statues that Vandhiyathevan had by now stopped paying attention to them. The Prince got off his horse and went and stood near the Buddha statue. Vandhiyathevan got off his horse as well. Alwarkadiyaan Nambi, who was riding a little ahead, turned his horse around and came close to the statue.

“Aha, what a sculpture,” exclaimed the Prince.

“I do not understand what is so special about this sculpture. There are a hundred similar ones all over this place,” said Vandhiyathevan.

“I like the fact that you always speak your mind.”

“There are only two forms of sculpture that have impressed me – the Natarajar sculptures of our Chozhanaadu, and the Buddhas of Lanka. After having seen the sizes of some of these Buddha statues and the Viharas, I sometimes feel ashamed of our small Shiva temples. In yesteryears, there lived some great Lankan kings. Their kingdoms might have been small, but their hearts and devotion to their God were big. They expressed their devotion through these big Buddha sculptures and Viharas.”

The Prince went close to the Buddha statue, and looked closely at the padma paadam (holy feet) and the lotus flowers that were placed near the feet. He touched the feet, prayed for a moment, and got back on to his horse.

When the three of them had started riding, Vandhiyathevan exclaimed, “Nambiyaare, I am afraid the Prince has fully converted to Buddhism.”

The Prince heard Vandhiyathevan’s comment and responded, “I do have a place in my heart for this religion too. Buddha gave me an important message.”

“But, we did not hear anything.”

“The flowers near the Buddha’s feet told me to come to the Simhathar Lake in Anuradhapuram at exactly midnight.”

Book 2 | Chapter 32 | Where should I go?

I am reminded of an ancient poem about the fictitious elephant owned by one of my ancestors, Perunkilli Valavan. This elephant was supposed to have one leg in Lanka, one leg in Thanjavur, one in Kanchi, and the fourth in Urayur (present day Trichy).

The play ended. Dinner was ready. The feast was served to the soldiers. The Prince wandered around and spoke to the soldiers. He enquired about their health and their families. He answered their questions and addressed their concerns. Vandhiyathevan realised why the entire kingdom loved and respected this man so much. The soldiers felt immense love and respect for their Prince.

The soldiers were getting a little antsy with the inaction and asked him when and where the next battle would be. The Prince responded by telling them to wait out the rainy season.

After the meal, the Prince excused himself and went towards the tent that was set up for him. He took Vandhiyathevan and Alwarkadiyaan Nambi with him.

“Did you see the enthusiasm of these soldiers? If only Thanjavur had cooperated, we would have finished operations in Lanka by now. But now, we have to wait out the next three months for the rainy season to pass.”

Nambi responded, “Sire, I am surprised you are worried about the situation here, whereas the situation in the mainland is graver. The great Chozha Kingdom established by Vijayalaya Chozhan and expanded immensely by Paranthaka Chozhan and Sundara Chozhan is in danger of disintegrating into bits and pieces.

“Hmm. That is true. Both of you bring important messages. Let me hear them. Vandhiyatheva – please start.”

And Vandhiyathevan started his story. He narrated every incident since the day he left from Kanchi, to when he visited Kadambur, Thanjavur, Pazhayarai, and then now to Lanka. He spoke about every conversation he heard, every plot that he came to know of, every danger he had faced, and how he had escaped. He ended by telling the Prince about how worried Princess Kundavai was, about this whole situation. He also reiterated her request for him to come back to the mainland for the sake of the Kingdom.

Nambi then started talking about his travels. Several of the incidents that he had been through corroborated with what Vandhiyathevan had just talked about. Nambi also talked about the midnight meeting at Thiruppurambiyam Pallippadai. He ended his narration with the Chief Minister’s advice of not endangering himself by coming to the mainland.

“He suggests a temporary pausing of expansion efforts in Lanka, and asks you to consolidate the Tamizh forces in Lanka, in one place. He says that there will be a time very soon when the conspirators will come into the open. At that time, this force would be very useful. He also tells you that several focus forces within the Kingdom, such as the Kaikolaar forces, are also waiting for that time.”

The irritated Prince shot back, “Thirumalai, what does your gurunaathar think? Does he think he is Chanakya or something? How dare he suggest that I fight against my own kinsmen?”

“Sire, that is not what the Chief Minister says. He says action needs to be taken against conspirators of treason in the country. And this should be done at the right time.”

“Even if that is so, why am I to be the person to punish them? Should that not be the Emperor himself?”

Vandhiyathevan said, “Ayya, the Emperor is being held hostage in his own palace. The Pazhuvettarayars are not letting anyone near him. He does not even have that liberty. Your elder brother seems to have taken a pledge never to come to Thanjavur. In this situation, is it not your duty to come to Pazhayarai and restore order?”

The Prince was lost in thought for a little while.

“Hmm. This mann aasai (desire for land) is a dangerous vice. Look at what it is making people do. Do you know the history of Simhagiri fort, which I visited today?”

Vandhiyathevan said, “I have not heard about it, Sire.”

“About 500 years ago, there used to be a king named Dhaadusenan. He had two sons – Kasyavan and Mahendan. Kasyavan and Dhaadusenan’s General conspired against the kingdom. Kasyavan imprisoned his own father and took over the throne. Mahendan escaped to India. Soon Kasyavan built a wall around where his father was imprisoned and killed him. Ridden with guilt and a fear that his brother would come back for revenge, Kasyavan built this powerful fort of Simhagiri on top of a mountain. He also built very strong fortifications around it.”

“Soon enough, Mahendan returned with the help of the Pandiya King. The foolish Kasyavan, in a moment of carelessness, came out in the open to fight the war, and lost his life. In that fort, where this tyrant lived, there are some beautiful paintings. These have been painted a few hundred years ago, but they still remain very well preserved. I had the good fortune of seeing these paintings when I visited with the Chinese travellers.”

Nambi asked politely, “Ayya, can I please ask you a question?”

“Of course, please ask.”

“From what I know, and what you have said until now, it looks like Simhagiri is still under the control of the Sinhalese army. In that situation, was it prudent of you to go into the fort with the Chinese travellers? Did you have to risk your life to do that?”

“Thirumalai, why should my life alone be so important, that it should not be risked? There are so many Chozha warriors here, who are risking their lives every day, for the sake of the Kingdom.”

“But, those warriors risk their lives in the battlefield…”

The Prince interrupted Nambi, “I had two reasons to go to Simhagiri. I had been desirous of seeing the paintings in the fort for a very long while, and that wish got fulfilled today.”

“And the second reason…”

“I knew that Parthibendra Pallavan had reached Lanka, the minute his ship shored on Trikonamalai harbour, but I did not wish to meet him immediately. I also got to know that the Chief Minister had come to Maathottam, and I was also expecting a message from him. If I get suggestions from two elders, it would only be proper of me to adhere to the wishes of the first person whom I meet.”

“According to that logic, my side wins.”

Nambi countered, “Ayya, this fellow is trying to fool you using logic.”

“Nambi, he did not have to fool me. I had noticed him overpower my man and get on to his horse. I wanted to bring him here and teach him a lesson.”

“Yes. It was a nice lesson. My back still hurts thinking about the lesson. Is this the way the Prince of Chozhanaadu treats a messenger with an official scroll? Anyway, I am at least glad that the Prince is leaning in favour of coming with me to Pazhayarai.”

The Prince said, “I am reminded of an ancient poem about the fictitious elephant owned by one of my ancestors, Perunkilli Valavan. This elephant was supposed to have one leg in Lanka, one leg in Thanjavur, one in Kanchi, and the fourth in Urayur (present day Trichy). This land of Lanka has so many wild elephants, but does not have that kind of an elephant.”

The three of them had a hearty laugh.

The Prince finally said – “Let us head to Anuradhapuram. I will meet Parthibendra Pallavan when we get there. Let me also hear what he has to say. And then I can make up my mind where to go.”

Book 2 | Chapter 31 | Dushtakamanu

The Prince came and sat on a tree stump in the centre. He was not wearing a beautiful gold crown, pearl necklaces, or dressed in fine silk. Vandhiyathevan and Nambi were sitting close to him. They were getting ready for an enactment of the tale of Elela Singhan.

There were about a thousand soldiers in the gathering. The commander was having a difficult time getting them in order. He was trying to get them to sit in a semi-circle. The army cooks were cooking up a feast, and the veritable smell of kootan-soru was making the soldiers drool. The Prince came and sat on a tree stump in the centre. He was not wearing a beautiful gold crown, pearl necklaces, or dressed in fine silk. Vandhiyathevan and Nambi were sitting close to him. They were getting ready for an enactment of the tale of Elela Singhan.

Around a thousand years before this time, a large Tamizh force had captured several parts of Lanka. The leader of the force at that time was a warrior named Elela Singhan. The Lankan king had been driven off to the forests in the mountains. The Lankan king’s son, Dushtakamanu, plotted from a very young age to recapture Lanka from Elela Singhan. The young prince gathered up a force and waged war against Elela Singhan. The small army was destroyed by the large Tamizh army. Dushtakamanu had then approached Elela Singhan and challenged him to a singular wrestling match. It would be a fight to the death, and the victor would get Lanka.

Elela Singhan, impressed by the bravery of this young prince, accepted the challenge. Intending to return Lanka to the young prince, Elela Singhan fought with a lesser intensity. He died and Dushtakamanu won back Lanka. They had raised a Pallippadai temple in honour of Elela Singhan.

The Chozha warriors enacted the story of Elela Singhan beautifully in front of the Prince. The actors performed brilliantly and the audience was held spellbound.

The Prince turned towards Nambi and asked, “Have you been to the beautiful cave temple of Thambalai? There is a painting in the cave, which describes this incident of Dushtakamanu so beautifully.”

“No, Sire. We did not have time to go to the cave temple. We saw you when we reached Thambalai. The temple will not go anywhere, but meeting you was of utmost importance. I guess we reached in the nick of time. On our way, we saw Parthibendran. It looked like he had been searching for you and had still not found you.”

“Yes, my Commander also told me that Parthibendran had come looking for me. I wonder why he was looking for me.”

“Of course, I know. Your brother Aditya Karikalan has sent him to bring you back to Kanchi.”

“Oho. And I am assuming you also know about the message that Vandhiyathevan has brought for me.”

“Yes, I do. He brought a message from your sister, Princess Kundavai, to bring you back to Pazhayarai. I was spying from the empty palace next door to her palace when all this happened.”

The Prince seemed a bit annoyed to hear this. “Chi, so you have started playing your dirty tricks on my sister too?”

“Oh, Prince, only because I knew this young man’s intention, he has reached. The troubles that I faced to make sure he reached here safely, is known only to Lord Buddha. If he had come through the usual route via Anuradhapuram, he would not be here with you today. “

“Oho. So, you came to Lanka, and all the way here, only with the single purpose of bringing this young man safely to me?”

“No, Sire. I bring a message too, from the Chief Minister Aniruddha Brahmaraayar. He feels that you should stay here in Lanka for a little more time, and feels that would be the best course of action for you.”

“Hmm. If three elders give me three contradicting directions, what am I to do?”

Vandhiyathevan responded, “Prince, you should do what your sister asked you to do. I tell you this, because, within you, your heart feels that you should always listen to what your sister says. Also, I have promised your sister that I would bring you back to Pazhayarai. So, I think that would be the best course of action.”

The Prince looked at Vandhiyathevan up and down and smiled.“I have been waiting so long for a brave companion and friend like you.”

Book 2 | Chapter 30 | Wrestling Match

Nambi got down from his horse, walked over to Vandhiyathevan, and whispered in his ear, “Appane, the scroll is currently with the person to whom it should be delivered.”

It was late evening. It was beginning to get dark. Vandhiyathevan was beginning to question Nambi’s motives. Where were they headed to? He hoped that he was not being led to some enemy camp. He had heard that the farthest that Chozha forces have been able to occupy was Thambalai. He could hear the constant sound of thundering hooves through the dark forest path. Thankfully, moonlight lit the path in front of them.

Suddenly Vandhiyathevan heard voices – sounds of celebration and cheering. He saw the lights of torches and a fire in the gathering. The horses stopped a little before the gathering. One of the horses turned quickly and headed towards Vandhiyathevan.

The warrior on the horse approached Vandhiyathevan and before he could realise, he threw a punch on his chin. Vandhiyathevan fell down but regained composure quickly. He threw a punch towards the warrior, who fell down. The two fell on each other and started wrestling. The warrior quickly removed Vandhiyathevan’s knife from his waist and threw it far away. It was now a fair fist fight. The two warriors rolled and fought. They kicked up a dust storm.

A crowd gathered around them. Within a few minutes, the warrior had overpowered Vandhiyathevan, had thrown him on the ground, and sat on his back. The warrior removed Vandhiyathevan’s waist cloth and the scroll within it. He got up, motioned to one of the two other riders to hold down Vandhiyathevan. The warrior walked over close to another, who was holding a torch and started reading the message.

“Nambiyaare, you are such a traitor. Get the scroll from him. I never should have trusted you as a companion. You are a coward too.”

Nambi got down from his horse, walked over to Vandhiyathevan, and whispered in his ear, “Appane, the scroll is currently with the person to whom it should be delivered.”

By this time, several others in the crowd had seen the warrior’s face in the light of the torch, and started recognising him.

Folks around started cheering, “Ponniyin Selvar, Vaazhga!” There was celebration all around and everyone surrounded the Prince, and heaped more praises on him.

“All of you, get back to the camp. Make arrangements for a feast,” said the Prince, and the crowd dissolved.

Vandhiyathevan looked at the Prince with wonder. He thought that the Prince had the good looks of Arjuna and the strength of Bhīma. He was in awe of this man. He felt privileged that he had gotten punched by this man.

Some readers might feel a little sad that the greatest of the great rulers – Prince Arulmozhi Varman – the man whose name is what inspired the name of this novel, the ruler who would bring so much praise to the Chozha kingdom, the King who would later be called Raja Rajan – has been introduced in such a normal fashion, without any royal fanfare. But then, this is the way he met our hero, Vandhiyathevan, and this is the way he had to make an appearance.

The Prince approached Vandhiyathevan with a smile on his face.

“Welcome, my friend. Welcome to the beautiful island of Lanka. You have come seeking the Chozha forces from so far away. Is this welcome suitable to you, or would you like something more celebratory?”

Vandhiyathevan got up with a jump and paid his respects by joining his hands and bowing to the Prince.

“I bow to you, my Prince. The welcome is very satisfactory to me. The scroll that I brought from the Princess has been delivered to you. Now it is up to you to decide what to do with me.”

“I see that the scroll has been written by my sister herself. Did she give it to you personally?”

“Yes, Sire. I had the distinct honour of receiving it personally from the Princess. I started immediately after, and reached here without even halting anywhere.”

“I can see that. Else, you would not have been able to come here so quickly. For someone who has done me such a big favour, I wonder what I can give in return.”The Prince walked towards Vandhiyathevan and embraced him tightly. Vandhiyathevan’s tiredness vanished in a moment. He felt like he was in heaven.

Book 2 | Chapter 27 | Mad elephant

“Oh yes, General. I had half a dozen armed soldiers near the door for company. The house was large. And for dinner, they sent me a cat. Just when I was about to finish off the cat, this Veera Vaishnavan came and disturbed me. The cat, which was a staunch Shaivite did not like this man one bit, and scratched his skin and drew blood.”

Lankan Forest img source unsplash
Lankan Forest – img src unsplash photographer Sameera Thilakaratne

General Boodhi Vikrama Kesari, also known as the Kodumbalur Periya Velaar was a wise old man, who had seen many a war. He was one of the trusted generals of the Chozha Empire. After his younger brother had been killed in the war in Lanka, he had taken a particular interest in seeking revenge. This was one of the main reasons he was the General of the forces that were fighting in Lanka. We have also heard about the problems that were being created by the Pazhuvettarayars in sending supplies for the troops in Lanka. So, the generations-old rivalry between these two clans had only been increasing day-by- day.

It was no surprise that, given the rivalry between the Pazhuvoor and the Kodumbalur clans, the General had become incensed when he saw the palm tree insignia ring on Vandhiyathevan. It was only due to good fortune that Chief Minister Aniruddha Brahmaraayar had sent Nambi hurriedly to let the General know about the real reason why the Vaanar clan warrior was in Lanka. Nambi was a trusted messenger, and the Kodumbalur General had gotten the message.

When Nambi and Vandhiyathevan met the General, the latter tried to reconcile from the previous meeting.

Thambi, I hope you were treated well.”

“Oh yes, General. I had half a dozen armed soldiers near the door for company. The house was large. And for dinner, they sent me a cat. Just when I was about to finish off the cat, this Veera Vaishnavan came and disturbed me. The cat, which was a staunch Shaivite did not like this man one bit, and scratched his skin and drew blood.”

“Oho. It looks like this young man has a good sense of humour.”

“General, what he says is true. The cat did scratch me very violently. And yes, he does have a sense of humour. Apparently, his ancestors were poets. So, he retains some of their sense of imagination too.”

The General roared in laughter seeing the scratch marks on Nambi.

“If you cannot handle a small cat, how are you going to cross the jungle paths of Lanka? I am glad you are going to be taking this young man as your companion.”

“General, I do not require any companion. I forgot to take my wooden staff when I went there. That was the problem.”

“Ok. Then you should be the companion to this young man. Make sure you feed this young man a good meal before you leave.”

Thambi, try to have a decent meal before you leave. I apologise if the meal you get is not the best. That is all we can afford. Mahendran’s forces breached all the lakes and rivers before they left. All the crops are lost. The supplies coming in from the mainland are also neither regular nor sufficient.”

“I did hear this elsewhere as well, sir. I overheard some of the ladies in the army camp complaining to the Princess that their kin in Lanka were not getting enough supplies from the mainland.”

“Oho, so this information is known there as well. Good. And what did the Princess reply?”

“She reassured the ladies that, with the Kodumbalur General in power in Lanka, their men were in safe hands, and that they should not worry.”

The General smiled proudly.

“There is no one equal to our Princess in kindness and generosity.”

“There is one other person, General – the next Princess of the kingdom.”

“And who are you talking about now?”

“The Kodumbalur princess, of course.”

“How is Vanathi doing, young man?”

“She is doing very well, sir. She is an inseparable companion to the Princess. You can never see either of them without each other’s company.”

“I am very glad to hear this. Has the Princess given any message for me?”

“No, sir. But I will be honest with you. She has sent a message about Vanathi for Prince Arulmozhi, which I can relay only in person. I am not at liberty to share it with anyone else.”

The General smiled and hugged Vandhiyathevan.

“I have never seen such a smart warrior as you.”

“The two of you should not be wasting any further time. You should leave.”

“General, should this Veera Vaishnavar definitely accompany me? I would prefer to journey alone.”

Thambi, it would be better if the two of you travel together. It is difficult to track the Prince down. Also, Nambi carries a scroll for the Prince too.”

The General went close to Vandhiyathevan and whispered in his ear, “Thambi, do not worry about Nambi. He is a reliable person. But I would advise you to be careful, none the less. I would also like you to pay attention to the message that he delivers to the Prince, and let me know the same, once you return.”

Vandhiyathevan had originally thought that the General was sending Nambi as a spy along with him, but he now realised that it was quite the contrary – he was being sent as a spy with Nambi.

Vandhiyathevan and Nambi started on their journey that night with the company of two soldiers. They travelled eastwards for two days. Initially, they passed through a few towns. They passed through damaged embankments on rivers and lakes. Then slowly the path turned towards the forests.

Dense vegetation surrounded them. Nambi and Vandhiyathevan debated on the effects of war. Nambi was heavily anti-war, while Vandhiyathevan, warrior that he was, tried to justify the need for war. Then they turned southwards. The forests became deeper and denser. They were also rising in altitude. Along with the merry chirping of birds, they could occasionally hear the frightening sounds of wild animals too.

The knowledgeable Nambi was describing the kinds of animals that lived in these forests – elephants, jaguars, cheetahs, bears, and wolves. Nambi described how lone wolves and cheetahs hunted together in those jungles.

“Nambiyaare, I hear the sound of water gurgling somewhere. Is there a river nearby?”

“There must be. I am not sure. The sound you are hearing resembles a herd of elephants drinking water.”

“Isn’t it dangerous to get caught in the middle of a herd of wild elephants?”

“No. It is not. Elephants in herds are safe. You just need to step aside.” Meanwhile, one of the soldiers had climbed a tree to see what was going on.

“Ayyo, there is a lone mad elephant headed our way.”

Nambi got the jitters and screamed, “Run!”

“Nambiyaare, you said you were not worried about a herd of elephants, why are you afraid of a single elephant? There are three of us who have spears. You have a staff in your hand.”

“No. One can even manage a herd of elephants, but a lone mad elephant is more powerful than a thousand of your spears. It is very dangerous.”

As he spoke this, the elephant came into full view. It was charging towards them.

The four of them started running away from the elephant. After running a few steps, they realised that they were running towards the edge of a deep ravine. The soldiers and Vandhiyathevan darted to the sides towards the dense forest.

Vandhiyathevan turned back and saw Nambi standing rooted to the spot. It was a familiar sight. He stood swinging his staff and screaming, “Stop! Do not come near me. Stop!”

Book 2 | Chapter 26 | Veera Shaivite Cat

“She gave me an important task.”

“Which was.. ”

“To come here to Lanka and search for the Pandiya coronation crown and a bejeweled scepter. Apparently, it is hidden in some jungle here in Lanka.”

Vandhiyathevan was puzzled as to why and how this Veera Vaishnavar had come here.

“I was just thinking about you a little while ago. I open my eyes and you jump across the wall.”

Thambi, why were you thinking about me? If you had been thinking of Lord Rama, at least you would have gotten some punyam. Why think of mere mortals like me?”

“Actually I started thinking of Lord Rama only. I was thinking about how Lord Rama had worshipped Shiva at Rameswaram. And then I was reminded of Lord Hanuman. And immediately I thought about you. I wondered if you had also jumped across the ocean to reach here.”

“Who am I, to be compared with the great Hanuman? He had wreaked havoc here in Lanka when he came here. And look at me – I cannot win against a common cat. Look at how he has scratched my leg. My legs are bleeding now.”

“Why did the cat take so much offence to you?”

“I came here searching for you. I tricked the guards in the front gate, and climbed over the back wall. While climbing down the wall, I inadvertently stepped on the cat’s tail. This irritated the cat very much and it started attacking me.”

“Oho. I think I know what is happening here now. The cat came to me and was petting me gently with its tail. I think it is a Veera Shaivite cat. That is why it took a liking to me and hatred towards you.”

“What you say could very well be true. If only I knew this before, I would have given a few whacks to the cat with my staff.”

“Interestingly, ever since I set foot on this holy soil, I have also been feeling a very strong Veera Shaivite attitude. My sword is seeking out the blood of a Veera Vaishnavar. I recollect how you helped me earlier, and that is why I am refraining.”

“When did I ever help you, Thambi?”

“Do you not remember telling me about your sister, the Pazhuvoor Rani? You even showed me the palanquin in which she travelled. I saw the same palanquin outside Thanjavur a few days later. I told her that I had a message for her from you.”

“You seem to be well-versed in the art of telling blatant lies.”

“What I consider imagination, people like you call lies.”

“Anyway, what happened after that?”

“She gave me a ring with the palm tree insignia and asked me to come and see her in her palace.”

“And did you go and see her?”

“Of course, I did.”

“And…”

“She gave me an important task.”

“Which was…”

“To come here to Lanka and search for the Pandiya coronation crown and a bejewelled sceptre. Apparently, it is hidden in some jungle here in Lanka.”

“Hmm. They say that the treasury, under the control of Periya Pazhuvettarayar, has countless riches. It seems that it is still not enough for Nandini Devi. And what did she say she would give you in return?”

“She promised to make me the Fort General of Thanjavur.”

“Hah. That would be nice. If you become the Fort General, then I would get undeterred access to Thanjavur.”

“I doubt if that would even be possible. Look at me. I am now caught in this mess, at the beginning of the mission.”

“Do you know why you have been imprisoned?”

“I brought along the ring with the palm tree insignia, thinking that it would have some power here also. It looks like that is the mistake I made.”

“Yes. That is a big mistake. Did you not know that the General here is from Kodumbalur? The Kodumbalur clan and the Pazhuvur clan have been arch-enemies since a very long time. But, do not worry. I am here to free you. Come with me.”

“No. I will not come with you. Please leave soon. My sword is begging me for some Veera Vaishnava blood.”

“I have enough blood within me. Give some to your sword if you want. Come, let us leave now.”

“No. I will not come.”

“Why are you being so adamant?”

“I thought I would get a good night’s sleep today. Travel has made me tired.”

“Oho. So, you want to sleep. Is this how you will finish the task that Princess Kundavai gave you? Did you not promise her that you would not rest a minute till you reached this scroll to her brother, Prince Arulmozhi?”

Nambi took out a scroll from his hip pouch.

Vandhiyathevan looked blankly at Nambi, took the scroll and stammered, “How did you get this scroll?”

“I got it from General Vikrama Kesari. He asked me to return this ring with the palm tree insignia as well. He also asked me to let you know that you can start your journey at any time.”

“Do you know where the Prince is at this time?”

“No. No one knows. Last we heard was that he had left Anuradhapuram and gone towards Malai Nadu. The General has ordered me to accompany you and help you in navigating this new land.  

A fraction of doubt still clouded Vandhiyathevan’s mind. “Can we meet the General before we leave?”

“Of course, we should meet him before we leave. You should give him any news you may have about Vanathi.”

Vandhiyathevan was almost certain now that Nambi was a sorcerer and knew the dark arts.

Book 2 | Chapter 7 | Samudrakumari

She knew about the perils of rescuing people who were hysterical and on the cusp of drowning. She had heard about how they would clasp the rescuer so tightly that it would make it very hard for the rescuer to swim. She thought quickly. There was only one way. She went close to him and landed a powerful blow between his nose and temple.

Vandhiyathevan spent the day lazing in the mandapam. For most part of the day, he was thinking about Poonkuzhali. He thought about how intelligent she was. He was also very impressed with her humility – how she had casually mentioned slaying a leopard. There were times when she behaved very obstinately and adamantly. Yet, there were times when he saw extreme sorrow in her eyes. He wondered what brought that out in her – perhaps a very sad incident earlier in her life. He thought about her helpful nature. He remembered how she had saved him from the guards. And now, she had even accepted to take him to Lanka.

There were times in the day when he heard a lot of commotion – sounds of horses, men and frightened animals. He realised that he was the one they were searching for. He was reminded of the turncoat – the son of the Vaidhiyar. He would never be able to forgive him.

The sun began to set. Vandhiyathevan longed to see the beautiful sunset from Kodikkarai. The peninsular formation of land near Kodikkarai made it a brilliant place to watch the sun set over the oceans. Vandhiyathevan controlled his desire. It would not be safe. Darkness fell quickly. Vandhiyathevan could not hold himself back any further within the mandapam. He gingerly stepped out. The nocturnal sounds of the forest sent a chill down his spine.

He heard the sound of a cuckoo. Vandhiyathevan took a few steps towards the sound. He saw Poonkuzhali at a distance. She motioned for him to follow her without making a noise. He noticed that the shore was not too far away. He saw a craft anchored close by, with its sail rolled down. She started pushing the craft away from the shore. Vandhiyathevan waded in the water alongside the craft for a little distance. Then she got into the craft and asked him to board as well. The craft swayed like a pendulum. Vandhiyathevan’s heart raced in fear.

“Should we be raising the sail now?”

“No. The wind is blowing in the opposite direction now. If we raise the sail, we will go towards land again. We will have to wait until the wind turns.”

“You seem to be very well-versed in sailing, just like your father mentioned.”

“He is my father only when I am on land. When I am in the ocean, the Ocean King, Samudra-Rajan is my father. I have another name too – Samudra-Kumari. Hasn’t anyone told you that yet?”

“Interesting name.”

“If the Emperor’s younger son can be addressed as Ponniyin Selvan, can I also not be addressed as Samudra-Kumari?”

“When can we reach Lanka?”

“If two people row, we can make it by dawn. The winds would also have to aid us.”

“Let me also help you row, then.”

“No need. This requires skill and I will take care of the journey.”

The boat rode the rough waves. Vandhiyathevan was feeling extremely queasy and giddy.

“These are some rough winds.”

She laughed loudly. “This is nothing compared to the winds of the stormy season. The whirlwinds that blow at those times can easily sink boats this size.”

She explained the various types of sea winds and how it can affect crafts of various sizes. She seemed to be extremely knowledgeable about the sea.

Suddenly a wave of distrust swept over him. “Was she intent on drowning him?” he thought.

“Turn around the craft and take me to land.”

“Shut up. What are you saying? We are out in the middle of the sea. If you are so afraid, close your eyes and sleep.”

“Take me back. My doubts are getting clarified. You want to drown and kill me. If I sleep, your job will become easier. If you do not turn around, I will jump into the sea.”

“Please do so. But, give me the scroll that you are to deliver to the Prince.”

“Ah. How do you know about the scroll?”

“I saw it yesterday. Do you think I would have agreed to take you to Lanka, without knowing who you are? If I were Princess Kundavai, I would never have given such an important task to a fickle-minded person like you.”

“Oho. You also know who gave me the scroll. You are definitely a conspirator. Are you going to turn around, or should I jump into the water?”

“Go ahead and jump,” she screamed.

He took a deep breath and jumped into the water. They had come into deep water by then. He had not anticipated that it would be so deep. Panic gripped him. The waves tossed him up and down. One moment, he could see the boat, the other, the darkness of the water enveloped him.

He was certain that he was going to drown and die. All his dreams of meeting the Prince, befriending him, and bringing him back to the mainland, were quashed. All of these aspirations were now being destroyed by this girl – this mad girl.

He thought that she must be from the Pazhuvettarayar camp. Then he thought she must have probably been sent by the Pazhuvoor queen Nandini. He apologised in his mind to Princess Kundavai for failing in his duty. He then decided to start praying to God, at the time of his death.

At that very time, he rode a high wave, and he saw the boat again.

For a few moments after Vandhiyathevan had jumped off the boat, Poonkuzhali had been adamant and stood her ground. She thought he would somehow struggle and come back to the boat.

After a little while, she realised that she was wrong. He did not know how to swim so well, and he was clearly petrified. He was screaming loudly. If she did not save him now, he would start swallowing water and drown. She started to row towards him.

She motioned for him to get on to the boat. He did not seem to understand. He was hysterically screaming. He had lost his sense of reason.

She tied one end of the sail rope to the boat and tied the other end to her waist. She jumped into the water and swiftly swam towards him. She saw the terror in his eyes.

She knew about the perils of rescuing people who were hysterical and on the cusp of drowning. She had heard about how they would clasp the rescuer so tightly that it would make it very hard for the rescuer to swim. She thought quickly. There was only one way. She went close to him and landed a powerful blow between his nose and temple.

Years of rowing these rough seas had made her very powerful. He was knocked out in one blow. Darkness enveloped him into an endless sleep.